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What Jesus Thinks Of His Church

When Jesus Observes Our Vision

Erwin W. Lutzer | November 11, 2007

Selected highlights from this sermon

The church at Philadelphia had been given an incredible opportunity. Though they were small, Jesus opened a door for them to impact the world with the good news of the Gospel. 

Jesus is still opening doors for us today. Let’s choose to run through them in faith, relying on His strength. 

I think it was John Greenleaf Whittier who said that the saddest words of tongue or pen were simply these, “It might have been.” We’ve all had our “might have beens” haven’t we? We’ve all gone through those periods of time of deep regret. Maybe it was because we didn’t make a financial investment that later on would have turned out to be very much in our favor. Maybe we also have some regret because of the vocation that we’ve chosen, the place that we’ve decided to live; or relational regret because of people we have either known or wish we had known, or wish we hadn’t known. All of those things can trigger regret, and the Bible teaches very clearly that it is Jesus who gives us opportunities, but ultimately we must take advantage of those opportunities, those open doors, and walk through them for his glory and for the honor of his name.

When Jesus dictated these letters to the seven churches in Revelation (and today we’re in Revelation chapter three, and the church is Philadelphia, and I hope that you’ve spending some time reading them), what really should surprise us it that he said nothing about the size of the church. If all that we had was the text of scripture we wouldn’t know whether Sardis was a large church, whether Ephesus was a large church, or whether Philadelphia was small. We wouldn’t know that because that apparently is not number one on Jesus Christ’s list.

Every one of these letters that are so penetrating and so convicting to the seven churches boils down to a simple question that Jesus is asking, namely, “What is your relationship with me?” Are you faithful or are aren’t you faithful? Are you walking through the doors of opportunity or are you walking by because of your own self-interest?

Now we’re going to look at the description of Jesus. Then we’re going to discuss some open doors that the church in Philadelphia had, and that we have as well. Chapter three verse seven of Revelation says, “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write the words of the holy one, the true one who has the key of David who opens and no one will shut who shuts, and no one will open.” Wow. Don’t you love it?

First of all, Jesus is described here as the holy one which is the same phrase that is used in the Old Testament by God for himself. This is an indication that Jesus self-consciously refers to himself as God. He says, “I am the holy one,” and then he goes on to say “the true one.” He has all of the characteristics of deity, and we have to keep in mind the vision of Jesus that was seen so clearly in the first chapter.

Now notice he also says, “I have the key of David. What I open no one will shut, and when I shut a door nobody is going to open it.” What does that refer to? You might be surprised to discover that the key of David actually is referred to in Isaiah chapter twenty-two. You need not turn to the text but I’ll tell you the story.

There was a king by the name of Hezekiah, and he was trying to negotiate with the king of Assyria, and there were some delicate negotiations that were going on. One of his negotiators was very evil and could not be trusted, so he was demoted and a man by the name of Eliakim – we don’t know much about him and it’s almost a confusing text – was put in his place as a negotiator and it says of him, “He has the key of David and whatever door he opens, opens, and whatever one he shuts stays shut. He obviously had the authority of the king behind him, and that’s the imagery of the keys that has to do with authority. So, what we know is that Jesus is the one who has the key.

I remember taking a tour in Europe and I was responsible for the tour group as was the leader also – the guide – but we came to a huge door in a castle. We were supposed to see the castle but we all had to wait outside. You know we could have tried to look through the keyhole. We could have kicked the door. We could have pushed it (it was absolutely solid), but there came a man with a big key. He walked past all of us. We didn’t care what his name was. We didn’t know whether or not he had breakfast that morning, but we didn’t ask him. All that we wanted was for him to put in the key, which he did, and he opened the door. It has to do with authority.

Here at the Moody Church we have many different keys as many of us learned during a period of transition to the new building. We have some keys that will get you into only one room. There are some keys that will get you into the building but not the office area. There are keys that will get you into the building and the office area, and then there is what I have here. I looked at it this morning. It says, “M.” This is a master key, and that’s why from time to time when someone can’t get into a closet if I am close by they say, “Pastor, will you key open it?” and usually, though not always, it does. It’s a master key. It works almost all the time.

Now you know there’s another key here at the church. It is called the grand master key. That’s the key that gets you into certain technical areas. It gets you into financial offices, and what have you. It is the grand master.

Jesus, as king of the universe, doesn’t just have a master key. He has the grand master key, and whatever he opens remains open and whatever he closes remains closed. He is the king of the universe, and the god of all gods. Don’t you love his authority?

Now the question is, “What doors does he open for us?” The answer to that question is first of all, the door of salvation. In fact, in John chapter ten he says, “I am the door. By me if any man enter in he shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture.” The context has to do with sheep and shepherds. He is the door, and there is no other way to the Father except through that door.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, what about Peter? Peter was given the keys to the kingdom, wasn’t he?” Well, yes he was and what did that signify? It signified authority because the gospel was going to go into new areas where it had never been before. For example, Peter preaches the gospel on the day of Pentecost to the Jews and three thousand are converted, and then he goes (in the eighth chapter of Acts) to the Samaritans – to the half-breeds who were despised by the Jews, and he’s involved there in sharing the gospel with them. And then you get to the tenth and the eleventh chapters and he is sharing the gospel with the Gentiles, so he has the keys in the sense that he’s opening up doors of ministry and evangelization for the glory of God. But Jesus here has the keys back.

Any keys that you and I were to use are really a derived kind of authority. It is Jesus who has the keys to the kingdom and the keys that will open and will shut. Now that means, quite frankly, that there is no room in the universe where Jesus Christ is excluded. He can go anywhere. There is no country where Jesus is excluded. He can go anywhere.

Sometimes in missions we speak about closed countries. What we mean is that missionaries can’t be there, but even if missionaries are barred, Jesus can be there, and he is there.

This past weekend I was speaking at a conference on apologetics that has to do with the defense of one’s faith. I met someone who would be known to most of you (and I will not mention his name) who is devoting his entire life now to work among the Muslims and the Muslim communities, not just in America, but around the world. The stories that he told me were unbelievable. He told me that in various websites where they do, by the way, the discipleship (a lot of it is done through the web), that thousands of Muslims are turning to Christ, and I heard this from someone else that even in Iran, which is the country that receives so much play in the news, there may be one million converts to Jesus Christ in Iran today. Isn’t that good news? [applause]

I need to explain to you that many of these are coming to Christ – not all – but many of them, because of dreams that they have, dreams about Jesus. It’s amazing, but let me tell you about those dreams just so that you get some clarification. When I was teaching a course up at Trinity seminary, I met a young man who was a convert from Islam to Christianity. In fact, his story was so unique I actually had it recorded. He was living in Jerusalem and one night he had a dream about Jesus and he could not get out of bed the next morning. In fact, he was just paralyzed. He could not move. It was as if he was pinned against the bed, and he said then he prayed to Jesus and said, “Jesus, if you let me get out of bed, I’ll find out about you.” Well, with that he was able to get out of bed, and what did he do? He found someone who had a Bible, and he began to read the Bible and was converted.

It’s interesting that these dreams do not convert anyone. They only point to the word of God. Do you remember that story of the Persians – the three wise men? The star did not take them immediately to Bethlehem. The star took them to Jerusalem, and it was at Jerusalem that the scribes opened the scriptures, and it is there that they said, based on Micah’s prophecy, that the Messiah was to be born, and then the wise men began their journey to Bethlehem, and then the star reappeared.

You know what God says is, “I’m never going to convert anyone by bypassing my word.” The dreams awaken you to Jesus, but he says, “It is my word that does the converting.” The Bible says, “We are born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible by the word of God, which lives and abides forever.”

I could tell you other stories about how Muslims are coming to Christ in so-to-speak closed countries. Why? It’s because Jesus has the key of David. Jesus is the one, and there is no country, and there is no square inch of planet earth where Jesus Christ cannot come if he wills to do it. He’s king of kings and lord of lords. He’s the man with the keys. Don’t you love him – the man with the keys? [applause]

The first key is that of salvation.

The second key is that of service. As soon as you go through the door of salvation there’s another door, and Jesus is saying, “Now that you know me, it’s time to be discipled and to serve me.” You remember that the apostle Paul, in writing to the people at Corinth, said in chapter sixteen of First Corinthians, “There is a door that is opened unto me but there are many adversaries.”

You know, God opens the doors but walking through them is difficult, and just because the door is open doesn’t mean that you or I will walk through them. There are many stories of failure in the Christian church throughout history where open doors were not taken advantage of. People did not walk through them because their vision was too small and they did not want to be involved in something that might risk their personal affluence and their personal comfort. So Paul says, “There are many adversaries but” he says, “there is a door that opened up to me.”

Now, let’s look at the Philadelphia church. You’ll notice that Jesus says in verse eight of chapter three of Revelation, “I know your works. Behold I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold I will take those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and aren’t, but lie; behold I will make them come and bow before you that they may learn that I loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have so that no one may seize your crown.” Wow.

Why was the church in Philadelphia a church that had little power? Well, we’re not sure, but we can speculate. It was a small congregation possibly. Maybe it was a congregation of lower class people who had no clout in the community. Maybe it was because of the opposition from these people who claimed to be Jews but weren’t. It may well be that there were Even Christians who claimed to be Jewish because the Jews suffered less persecution than the Christians in those days. Maybe also it was Jews who were simply upset with the Christians, and Jesus says, “By the way, even though you have little power, I’m going to make them come and bow before you and acknowledge that God loves you.”

Now that bowing is not the bowing of worship by any means. In fact, in the Old Testament it actually says to the Jews, “I will cause the Gentiles to bow before you.” Now it is reversed. Either way, the power of God overcomes adversity and the adversaries of the open door. Isn’t that wonderful? “I will cause them to bow at you feet, and don’t let their persecutions stop you in what you have been called to do.”

And then Jesus says also, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that will come upon the earth.” What is that hour of trial? Could it be local persecution? Yes, but notice the text. It says, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world.” I used to be skeptical of those who saw in this a reference to the great tribulation, but when you stop to think of it, no persecution in the early church ever came upon the whole world. This seems as if it’s the time of Jacob’s trouble. It may be a reference to the coming tribulation which still hasn’t happened because notice it’s connected with the coming of Jesus. Why does Jesus just throw that in – “…to try those that dwell upon the earth I’m coming soon”? Well, it is his coming – the rapture – that will keep the church from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole earth, and isn’t it interesting that he does not say, “I will keep you through the hour of trial,” but rather “I will keep you out of…” That’s what the text says. “I will keep you out of the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole earth.”

There is, of course, a disagreement as to whether or not we will go through the tribulation, or whether or not we will be raptured ahead of time, and we don’t know all the details until it happens, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when we are going up in the sky, we could look at all of those post-tribbers and say with a smile, “I told you it was so.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful to be able to do that? [applause]

Now, the bottom line is this though for us. Why is it that Jesus said, “Even though you are a church with little power…” – why did he say, “You are a church with little power, and yet behold I have put before you an open door which no man can shut”? Is it because they were strong? No. Obviously Jesus said, “You are of little power.” It is because they were faithful. He says this in the text. He says, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance…”. They were a faithful small church and Jesus said, “I have put before you an open door which no man can shut.”

My dear friend, today, what do you think that open door was? What do you think it was? I think it was because of the geographical location of Philadelphia, which of course, today is in modern Turkey, as you know, as all of these churches are. It was situated in those days along a very important trade route, and I think that what God was saying was this. “You know, you are a small church and all, and you are weak, but you know I am going to help you. In fact, I’ll even take you persecutors and make them bow before you and acknowledge that I love you, but you have an open door. Why? It’s because if you evangelize and if you spread the gospel in your community, you live in an area that can touch other communities and other countries because of your strategic position.” I think that’s what the open door was.

And now, my dear friend, let us suppose that we are having tea together. I was at a luncheon yesterday and the waiter said to me, “Do you want tea?” and I said, “Yes, in memory of Canada, I want tea please.” I was in the south and I thought I was going to get hot tea, and then I remembered, oy-yoy-yoy, it’s this ice tea, and I said, “Yeah, okay, sure, I’ll have ice tea.” But let’s suppose that we’re having tea together. Let’s look at Moody Church for a moment. What an open door.

I was just thinking to myself, “Even if we just took the vocations that are here at Moody Church,” because the best way to spread the gospel is really through vocations and friendship. Every single study proves it so. The Bible proves that it is so. The gospel is not necessarily spread in the large crowds because today the crowds don’t come because people think that the gospel has been marginalized, and they see no relevance and they see no great need. And so what God does is this. Here at the Moody Church we have representatives of “business Chicago.” We can touch the business community. We have “medical Chicago.” We’ve got doctors and nurses and on various levels of work and involvement in medicine. We have “educational Chicago.” We have people here who teach in the public schools, and not only teach but are administrators in the public schools. In fact, I had lunch recently with a man who may be here who actually has responsibility for a whole area within the public school system. So we have “educational Chicago.”

We have “industrial Chicago.” We could add we have young Chicago, we have Latino Chicago, we have racial Chicago, we have the colleges and the universities; and what God is saying to us here is this. “Strategically, here in the middle of the city of Chicago I have set before you an open door which no man can shut,” and God may be saying to us, “Are you willing to work through that open door and walk through it even at great personal cost?”

By the way, my list was made up hurriedly and I didn’t mean in any sense to list all of the different vocations and the way in which we can touch this city with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given us a new Christian Life Center, and because of that, we have financial challenges. In fact, we’d added twelve percent to the budget this year, primarily just to continue on in an even keel – with the added expenses of the CLC, inflation, and in other matters - because it’s all connected.

You say, “Well, can’t we do it without money?” Of course, we can do it without money, but the money is used to facilitate what God can do here so that our impact in the city and around the world is much greater. For example, I like to mention that we wish that we had a full-time pastor whose only responsibility was the universities and the colleges in our immediate area here in the great city of Chicago – some fifty I think. I mean, the need is so great - what those students are going through, what they have to endure - but you can see here that sometimes our vision is greater than our resources, but God says, “I have put before you an open door which no man can shut.” Is it possible for us, though, to fail in walking through those opportunities? Absolutely.

We all confess that we’ve failed in walking through opportunities that God gives us, whether it’s a personal witness - I remember talking to a Christian who said he was in a barber’s chair and the man began to ask him questions about what he believed, and he said, “My tongue just got tied and I could hardly say anything,” because the man wasn’t trained to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was an open door.

God says, “Here’s an open door,” but you know it is possible to have an open door and not walk through it. Do you see today our opportunities? We actually could (if God were to send a great wave of his blessing upon this church and other churches in the city that preach the gospel because there are many) become the church that could change the city – this city – that could change the world.

God says, “I’ve set before you an open door.” What a place to be strategically located – in the middle of the nation in a sense, the Midwest, the city of Chicago. So Jesus says to that little church, “You know, you have little power but I am on your side because you are faithful.” What an open door he gave them.

Now there’s another door that he’s able to open, and that is the door of Paradise, and here we get to the end of the text. By the way, when it says, “I am coming soon,” it primarily means “I come when you least expect it.” In other words, “I’m coming unexpectedly,” and as I mentioned, that’s connected with the previous verse that says, “Hold fast what you have so that no one may seize your crown.” Are we going to give an account for the way in which we live? Yes, indeed. It’s sobering. Every Christian will stand individually in the presence of Jesus and explaining to him why he did what he did on earth. That’s what the Bible teaches.

“The one who conquers, who is faithful, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven.”

Here’s a parenthesis. You know that this book has to be inspired of God. Did you know that? No man could ever write these things. Did you know that for the people who die today (and we can all think of friends of ours and relatives who died) and are in heaven, that’s not their permanent home? Their permanent home is the New Jerusalem, which is going to come down from God out of heaven as described in Revelation chapter twenty-one, and what a home it’s going to be.

The text now refers to that. It says, “I will write on him, the one who conquers; I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it. I’ll write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

He who has an ear let him hear. Are you listening today? Are you listening? He who has an ear let him hear.

You know, in those days they would take a pillar to honor someone, and on that pillar they would inscribe the name of someone that they wanted to honor. That’s the imagery that’s going on here, but in the New Jerusalem there aren’t pillars like we think of temples today because there are no material pillars to hold something up. The pillars are the people, and so Jesus said, “If you are faithful I’ll write on you.” It actually says, “I will write on him.”

“I’ll write on you three names – the name of my Father in heaven, the name of the New Jerusalem which is going to come down from God out of heaven to the earth (the name of the New Jerusalem), and my own new name.” Remember the intimacy that we learned about here? There will be things that you and Jesus know about in your fellowship with him that not even your wife or closest friends in heaven will know about. That’s how intimate it gets, and he says, “I’ll write on him also my new name.”

You talk about a reward for being faithful, and Jesus says, “I’m going to do all of this for you if you are faithful.” He says, “Behold I’ve set before you an open door which no one can shut.” Nobody can shut it, and Jesus is saying, “You walk through it; this is your reward.” Obviously he overpays because he gives such generous rewards to those of us are such sinners, and it’s all by grace.

What’s the bottom line? Well, the bottom line is simply this, that Jesus opens and closes doors. You know he said elsewhere in Revelation chapter one, and this imagery is found throughout the Bible, “I have the keys of death and of Hades.” He’s the keeper of the keys.

Hear me carefully. Your personal eternal destiny will be determined by Jesus. He has the keys of death. When it is time for you to die, you will die, and while it is true that something that do may cause and hasten your death, at the end of the day, even if that didn’t happen, you would die within God’s providential time. There is a time; he has the keys of death. But he also has the keys of Hades. Hades is that underworld where people used to go, and I think still go, because Hades has not yet been cast into hell’s fire as it is at the end of the book of Revelation. And so, Jesus says, “I’ve got the key,” and I want you to visualize a castle. Everybody comes in and there’s the key to Paradise and there’s the key to Hades, and Jesus is making all of these decisions, and once you are there, you can never change course or switch doors. That decision is made here in this life. This life is preparation for eternity.

So I need to ask you a question. Given the doors that Jesus is able to open and has opened in your life, do you know Jesus today? As I mentioned earlier, He says, “I am the door. By me, if any man enter in he shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture.” Apart from him you can’t get to the Father. You can’t get to paradise without going through that open door.

But here’s the real thing that you have to listen to. The time is coming when the door is going to be closed. In Matthew chapter twenty-five Jesus is telling the story of ten young women. Five of them had oil in their lamps. The other five did not, and they came later on, and the Bible says, “The door is shut,” and they shouted and said, “Open up unto us,” but he said, “The day of opportunity is over.” It’s gone.

The same story is in Luke thirteen. “They will shout,” and can’t you imagine them saying, “Lord, I was a member of the church. Let me in. Lord, I was a good person. Lord, my parents had me baptized,” and he will say to them, “I never knew you. The door is closed.”

The man who opens the door that no one can shut is the same one who closes the door, and when it’s closed no one – no one - can open it.

Well, that’s it. Are you ready to pray? Let’s pray.

Father, I want to thank you that we serve a sovereign Lord. Thank you that Jesus is the keeper of all keys. Thank you that there is no place on this planet or any planet where he is excluded. Thank you that he walks through closed doors of countries; he walks through closed doors in our homes; he walks even into closed hearts, and as he wills, opens them. We ask today for all those who have never trusted him as Saviour, and we pray for ourselves. We pray that we might be able to walk through the open door - as a church - and see this city changed by the power of the gospel.

Now, before I close this prayer I do have a question for you, my friend. Do you have the assurance that someday Jesus will open the door for you to Paradise? That’s the question. Remember that assurance comes when we believe that Jesus did all that will ever be necessary for us to stand in his presence and we respond to that and embrace it and put our faith in him. Are you there? If not, even where you are you can say, “Lord Jesus, right now, would you save me? I want to go through that open door that you have provided that I might be saved.” You tell God that right now wherever you are. You may be listening on the Internet; you may be listening on the radio; you may be listening right here at the Moody Church, but you talk to God.

Father, hear the cry of every heart. Hear the cry of the broken hearts. Hear the cry of those who doubt. Hear the cry of those who know you who find it so hard to trust. Hear us, Lord Jesus, we pray today in your blessed name. Amen.

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