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Jack Graham - Ministering at the Gates of Hell

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    Jack Graham - Ministering at the Gates of Hell
TOPICS: Seven: To The Victors, The Seven Churches of Revelation

We invite you to take God's Word now and open to the second chapter of the book of Revelation chapter 2. And this message that Jesus gives directly. What are the last words of Jesus recorded in the Bible? Right here in Revelation 2 and 3, and in verse 12 here's what He says to the church at Pergamum, the church that was ministering at the gates of hell:

"To the angel (that's the pastor, the leader, the messenger of the church) in Pergamum write: 'The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. You hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teachings of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers (to the victors) I Will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.'"

Notice how Jesus unveils or reveals Himself here. He says He is the one with the sharp sword in His mouth. Now the sword is the Word of God, the Word of Christ. And so when this passage speaks of Jesus revealing Himself with the Word of God coming out of His mouth, specifically this is a word of judgment. This is the powerful word of one with authority. God is speaking here as the executioner and the judge. Hell is on the move and Jesus is ready to destroy the powers of hell by the word of His mouth. But before He executes judgment upon the earth, notice that He begins with His church because we're told in 1 Peter of chapter 4, verse 17 that judgment must begin at the house of God. He begins with His own people. He begins with His church. And in this case it was a church that was planted at the gates of hell. Why so?

Let me tell you a little bit about Pergamos. Pergamos was a beautiful, beautiful city. It was called the greatest city in Asia at that time. It was a royal city, a rocky island with this great city, and it's on the Aegean Sea. And Pergamos was home to the culturally elite of that day. They had entertainment centers there. You might even say it was a kind of Las Vegas of it's day. People came from around the world. And what happened at Pergamos stays at Pergamos. It was also a city known for its medicinal cures. One of the Greek gods was Asclepius, and this god was the god of healing. And when you would go, the healing there was not typical hospital style healing but alternative medicine. Alternative medicine, even New Age ideas regarding medicine is not new; it was practiced in the ancient world in the mystery religions and potions and concoctions.

And some very strange ideas as to how you would be healed. It was a kind of a day spa along with a hospital there at Pergamos, and so you could go and participate in the healing. So it was a healing center. And further up the hill, on top of the hill of this city was a great altar, a massive statue and altar to the god Zeus or Jupiter in the Roman ledgers. And you see it there. That was called the high place on these cities. When we sing songs about tearing down the high places it was at these high places on hills that the gods of the ancient world were celebrated and worshiped. So this was at Satan's throne. In fact, some Bible scholars believe that the reference here was the altar of Zeus, that that is the throne of Satan. It was certainly a demonized place.

Centuries later when Hitler, the demonized dictator Adolf Hitler saw this he wanted it taken to Germany and a replica built for Germany representing the Third Reich. Demons and powerful worship of deities all worshipped here. Hell's headquarters! Satan always has strongholds, places, bases of operation where his demons, his minions, malevolent minions work and destroy and kill and devour. Hell holes filled with the power and the influence of the devil! And these believers are living at hells headquarters; they're living near the gates of hell. And God planted His church in this dark place, and He still does today. And in an ever in the ever encroaching evil of our culture and of our society we have been called to minister at the gates of hell, to be light in the darkness. Not to run and hide in holy huddles, but to rise up and pursue the will of God and preach the word of God, and prevail against the gate of hell! To remain faithful and true by refusing to compromise in the face of evil!

Jesus says to this church, "I love it that you are standing pure and true for Me. You have not denied My name. For the most part you have stood strong for Me"! But then He said in verses 14 and 15, "But I have this against you", and what did Jesus say to this church? He said, "You have compromised". In what way had they compromised? He said, "You hold", and the word there is tolerate, "You tolerate that some who teach the doctrine of Balaam". Now who on earth is Balaam and what is the doctrine of Balaam? And how can that possibly apply to anything today? Well, let me show you. Balaam was a prophet of Israel. When Israel was moving through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, they would encounter various enemies in establishing their reign in Israel, the Promised Land. And one of their most vicious enemies were the Moabites.

The Moabites had a king by the name of Balak. B-A-L-A-K. Balak wanted to stop the Israelites. He knew they believed in God or a God, so he thought, "If we can get their God to curse the Israelites, then they will fail". So he paid for a professional prophet, a man by the name of Balaam. He was a preacher for hire. He loved money, he was greedy and so when the king called him in and said, "I've got a deal for you that you can't refuse. If you will curse the children of Israel, I will pay you a handsome sum for that". And Balaam this prophet... P-R-O-F-I-T... The devil's always had prophets at his disposal, false preachers, false teachers, false prophets. Could find them everywhere. So the devil found him one, his name was Balaam and he concocted this idea with the king for money. But every time Balaam tried to curse the children of Israel he was stopped in some way. One day his own donkey stopped him.

Five times he tried to curse Israel and every time God reversed the curse. He blessed them. He couldn't do it! And he was frustrated by that so he had an idea. He said, "I know what we'll do". He goes to the king with this idea. He says, "If you will get those beautiful Moabite women", you know, the seductress women, the prostitutes of the Moabites, "If you will get them to go down into the tents of the Israeli soldiers, the soldiers will not be able to resist the allurement of these women and they will commit fornication with these women and these prostitutes (and many of them were temple priestess' of the ancient world, and so on), and then before you know it, they will be worshiping and participating with your idols and God Himself will judge them. God will have to curse them".

So that's what happened. They sent the Moabitess women in, the Israelis committed sin and ultimately their sin, their compromise, their immorality led to idolatry and judgment came. According to Numbers 25, 24,000 died in judgment that day. So what is the teaching of Balaam? It is the teaching of compromise. That we enjoin the error and the evil of the world around us. Compromise is like a cancer that eats away silently, secretly, steadily until disaster and death comes. The teaching of Balaam, what these teachers were saying to the Christians at Pergamos, or at least they were in the church and the church was doing nothing about it! They were teaching all these false ideologies about compromising with sin. Interesting, the name Pergamos means married. The Christian is married to Christ. We have a relationship to Christ. We're to be faithful and true to Christ. And friendship with the world is enmity with God. When we are seduced by the world we are committing spiritual adultery!

Now there are people today in the church who will tell you that it's okay to sin, or to tolerate sin. Remember, they were holding to the doctrine of Balaam; they were tolerating it in their midst. And as we go, more and more toleration produces a normalization of the sin. For example, in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was legal in the United States of America, most of us missed it. I was a seminary student. And in ethics class it was barely mentioned at a Baptist Seminary, a very fine Baptist Seminary but it just went right over our heads. And as time moved forward more and more abortion became the accepted, endorsed way of life. And some of these young people today, they've never lived any other way. It's normal; abortion is normal. The compromise became a normal way of life! And this is how it happens, just gradually, steady, steady, steady, and then Satan has a stronghold!

Homosexuality the same way. People decide we can endorse this, we can endorse alternate lifestyles, equal rights and equal normalization of this way of this lifestyle, and now it is becoming normal! That's the goal, to normalize sin. Notice something; it's very, very important. Belief determines behavior. Now many times our behavior determines our belief. We want to live a certain way, behave a certain way so we find an ideology or a religion or a morality to suit us. But typically it happens this way. Belief, how you begin to think, how you begin to think and see things affects the way you live and what you believe. And so Jesus speaks to this whole issue of doctrine and teaching.

Is that important? Of course it is. What we teach our children, what we teach our young people, what we teach our self and how we teach them, the kind of truth that we allow in the church: that is essential because ultimately if you allow error and evil in the church it will destroy the witness of that congregation. We've seen it over and over again. "Let him who hears what the Spirit is saying". Here again, this is to you and me because it can happen to us individually. We can begin through a series of subtle compromises and the way we think, the way we believe, what we watch, what we endorse, what we applaud, what we appease that we find ourselves compromised. Satan could not destroy them with persecution. In fact in the early days persecution spread the flame of the church.

So what he did not accomplish with persecution, he began to accomplish with infiltration. Satan gets in the church. The church was faithful to Christ: they didn't deny Jesus, but they tolerated, they coexisted with these false ideologies and teachings, and in particular those who tolerated evil. Same thing's happening today, isn't it? We have pluralism which says believe anything you want. Pick a god, any god. Choose a religion, all religions are equal. Endorse any alternative lifestyle you pick. Exclude. You know, don't exclude anyone. Accept almost anything. Lower your standards. All in the name of tolerance. You know what Jesus said to this church about their tolerance and about tolerating these false teachers? He said, "Get the bums out of your church. Get 'em out"!

And one of the greatest needs for the church in America in particular today is discernment and discipline to remove those things destroying the heart and the life and the convictions and the character of God's people. Get 'em out! Remove them! Because Jesus said, "If you don't, I will. I'm coming to clean house". Truth never excuses sin and neither does grace. I hear it all the time. You know, I can say I'm a Christian but live as I please. I can profess that I'm a believer. "Oh, yay, I got saved back there when I was a child, but now, you know, I'm older now and I can do what I want to do. I don't have to do what my parents said. I don't have to do what my church says. I want to party. I want to get drunk. I want to sleep around. I'm a Christian but I'm into freedom"! And we tolerate it in our own lives!

Again, I hear it all the time as a pastor. "I'm going to divorce my wife because I love somebody else". "I'm going to stop coming to church because I don't like what I'm hearing"! "I'm tired of being good; I want to do whatever I want to do"! Excusing sin, tolerating evil. A lot of people don't like any kind of Christianity that has principles and commandments and character involved; requirements and rules. That's all bad, in their minds. And guess what? You can find teachers and preachers who will tell you, you don't have to repent of any of that stuff. You can find churches which will celebrate and tolerate your lifestyle. And others who will affirm it. Look, the Bible is not popular because sometimes the Bible tells us things, tells people things they don't want to hear! But you can live your life through the lens of the Word of God or the lens of the world. But Jesus is saying, "Get rid of the compromise and the compromisers".

And what He says is, therefore, repent. Change your mind. Be honest about your sin. Say, "Lord, I know I'm wrong. I've been running in the wrong direction away from you, but I'm going to turn around. I'm changing my mind. I'm changing the way I think. I'm going to now think God's way, Your way". That's repentance which produces a change of life and change of character. Repentance is a gift from God. We don't have to keep going in that old same direction. And listen, on a day when we raise the high and holy standards of life and the sacredness of life, I'm so grateful for the gift of repentance and forgiveness when if you have aborted a child, by the grace and love of Jesus Christ you can be forgiven, you can be cleansed, you can be changed. If you've participated in some sin, no matter what it is, if you're willing to face it head-on and to say, "No more! No more compromise with sin! No more indulgence of myself! No more sensuality"!

You see, all of this stuff here, the Nicolaitans and the teachings and doctrines of Balaam. Really, it was all about sensuality and immorality and living in filth and degradation and sin. God said get rid of that! And when you do, when you repent you receive something from God. He said, look at it there. He said: "I will give you", this is verse 17, "to the one who conquers", here it is: to the victors, "I will give you the hidden manna, and a white stone with a new name written on that stone". Now what is that? To the victors, "Hidden manna". We know what the manna is. Manna was the food of angels, heavenly food that was given to the Israelites day after day in the wilderness. It was on the ground, they collected it; they ate it. It was heavenly bread, manna. It meant honey bread, sweet bread.

Jesus is the Bread of heaven who's come down to us! He's the one who sustains us and strengthens us in the wilderness of this world. He provides for us. He satisfies the deepest longings and needs of our lives! He is this manna, this bread of God. Look, the world can't satisfy. The world can gratify, sin can gratify, but only Jesus can satisfy! The Bread of heaven. We get that. And then the white stone with your name of it. What? There's quite a bit of discussion among the commentators as to what the white stone means. Could be a sign of acquittal. A judge would take a white stone and mark it as a sign of acquittal. So maybe. A white stone could refer to the diamond. White beautiful diamond and picture of the purity of the relationship that we have to God and holiness. White is a symbol of holiness. Could be. Could have had to do with the white stone, the breastplate of the priests of the Old Testament.

But here's what I like about the white stone. It appears that it could mean when a victor from battle or even in the athletic arena would act of strength or feat of battle winner! That they were given, this is true in history, they were given white stones. And the white stone they carried in their pocket and it became an entrance into all the games and all the celebrations of the games. It's like you are now invited to all the Olympics. They had great Olympian games, Grecian games in that time. And so the victors were given this white stone and they had automatic entrance into the celebration from that day forward. Sort of like if you win at Augusta National, the Master's Tournament, you get invited back to play every year no matter how well. You're in.

So the white stone pictures our entrance into heaven. It is the golden ticket! Not to Hollywood, but to heaven. And your name, a name that is between you and God. You know, Saul became Paul the Apostle. Abram became Abraham. Cephas became Peter. But bigger than that, He gives us a brand new name. "A new name is written down in glory. It's mine! It's mine"! We have a new name because we have been reborn! We have a new life in Christ! So we have this manna from heaven that sustains us and satisfies us. We have entrance into glory and celebration and will live in victory and our name is recorded there. The name that God has given you is posted in heaven. Written in the Lamb's Book of Life.

And that's why we live godly lives in an ungodly world. That's why we are committed to push back the darkness with weapons of prayer and witness and the Gospel of Christ. Because we overcome evil with good! We light the night! We're the light of the world! So let us never, church, never compromise! May we say with the half brother of our Lord Jude in Jude 3, that "We earnest contend for the faith that was once delivered"! That we would earnestly live and give the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ without compromise and with conviction. Yes, we speak the truth in love, but we do speak the truth! We do speak the truth! And in a world of toleration and accommodation even in the church, may we be true and trustworthy with the grace that we've been given.
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