READ : Revelation 3:7-13
You’ve heard the expression, “Opportunity knocks.” Well, listen today and you’ll hear about the most significant opportunity you’ll ever face.
The church in Philadelphia had a strategic location. The city stood at a junction where approaches to three great provinces came together: Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia. It was on the frontier for missionary advance to warlike peoples yet unreached by the gospel. But the body of believers in Philadelphia was small, and its resources seemed meager. What could this struggling church hope to do?
The risen Jesus had a word for them:
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are 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 opens:
I know your works. Look, 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. I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying – I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Jesus is the “holy one” who comes from God, the “true one” whose word is always reliable. He introduces himself here as the Lord of “the open door.” He has the keys. What he shuts, no one can open. But what he opens, no power in earth or hell can possibly shut. This theme dominates the letter..
STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS
First, Jesus says that he knows these believers in Philadelphia. He knows their works – everything they are doing in his service. And he has no fault to find in their ministry, nothing to censure. This letter, along with the one to Smyrna, breathes unqualified approval from the Lord. He says, “You have kept my word. You have not denied my name . . . you have kept my word of patient endurance.” In effect, “You have hung in there for me. Congratulations!”
It’s true that they feel weak and inadequate. And they are weak. Jesus knows that about them. He sees that they have “but little power.” But that doesn’t bother the Lord. Apparently, it’s O.K. to be weak. We don’t need to be ashamed of it, or apologize for it. Our weakness may even turn out to be a plus, a blessing.
Remember how the Apostle Paul discovered that? He had a terribly painful weakness. He called it a “thorn,” a stake, in his flesh. He longed to be freed of it, prayed for that deliverance fervently. But the Lord said “No.” His answer was, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul was finally able to accept that, even glory in it. He said, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me . . . for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
The Philadelphians, too, would discover that in Christ, they were stronger than they had ever dreamed of being. Think about it. It’s good to realize that you’re weak because that opens you to the power of the Lord. It’s perilous, on the other hand, to imagine that you’re strong. Then you don’t feel your need. Then you may discover, as Samson once did, that without the Lord you are pathetically weak.
These Christians in Philadelphia may feel small and insignificant, but the Lord’s purposes for them are grand. Now they are being looked down on, viewed with contempt by some so-called religious people, considered as outsiders. But Jesus will cause those very critics to come and bow down before these believers, and realize that he loves them and accepts them. They will see then that his verdict is what really matters, and that nothing can shut his followers out from his heavenly kingdom.
THROUGH OPEN DOORS
But this blessing, this vindication, is not for them alone. Jesus is giving them a mission. “Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.”
What is this “open door”? The Apostle Paul speaks of it as a special opportunity, an opening to do much good by the gospel. He says, “A wide door for effective work has opened to me” (1 Cor. 16:9). Again, “When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord” (2 Cor. 2:12). He asks the Colossians to intercede for him about this: “Pray for us that God may open to us a door for the word.” When the Lord opens a door, there is breathtaking opportunity to proclaim the gospel and great hope of success. Nothing then can stop the spreading of the good news. The Lord is sending forth his word, and it will not return to him empty, but will accomplish all that he purposes.
Maybe the Christians in Philadelphia hadn’t yet seen this open door of opportunity. Maybe they had been occupied mainly with sheer survival as a church. Maybe those unreached regions to the north had seemed to them dangerous and forbidding. They hadn’t seen themselves as ready or adequate for missionary advance. But the Lord’s word changed everything. When he threw the door open, there was nothing to do but march through it. And there was no time to lose.
I’ve been thinking of what happened on Paul’s second missionary journey when he traveled westward and northward in Asia Minor (what’s now Turkey). After he and Silas had visited churches in Derbe and Lystra, a number of doors seemed closed to them. Listen, “They went through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” This was right in the area near Philadelphia, but at that time the Lord opened no doors for the word there. That was to come later.
So when Paul and Silas continued on westward to Troas, on the Aegean coast, they weren’t sure exactly what was ahead for them. God had been saying, “Not here, not there.” He had kept closing doors. But in Troas one night, Paul had a vision. He saw a man from Macedonia pleading, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” The next day Paul and his companions prepared to embark. “We were convinced,” Luke writes, “that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” This, for these missionaries, at this time, was the Lord’s “open door.”
It has been my privilege several times in recent years to lead tours to this part of the world – to Philadelphia, to Troas, and a number of other sites in present-day Turkey. The tours were designed to follow the trail of the apostles, to visit the scenes where they once preached. But at a deeper level, we wanted to awaken concern for the work of the gospel in those areas now.
On one of those trips, I spent a considerable time looking out over a gorgeous river valley near ancient Laodicea. I was asking the Lord that day what he wanted to say to me at this point in my life. As I reflected and prayed, two Scripture verses came powerfully to my mind. One was from Psalm 92: “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age” (v. 14). What about that? Isn’t that a great encouragement for senior citizens who want to serve Jesus? The second verse thrilled me even more. It was from this letter to Philadelphia: “Look, I have set before you an open door.” Since I was in Turkey, looking out over that lovely land where the cause of the gospel once had flourished, I took that to mean that God is opening up there fresh opportunities for the word, and many Christians around the world are sensing that about Turkey. It stirred me to pray with greater hope and made me want to return and to do all I can for the cause of Christ in the land of Turkey.
Maybe I’m speaking to some believer today who feels weak and inadequate, but for whom the Lord has in store some great adventure. Look around you at the needs and challenges. Listen to what the Lord may be saying to you in his Word and in your prayers. I believe that for all who are devoted to him, there come moments of high opportunity. You may be puzzled at times. Some doors may seem to shut as they did for the apostles. But keep pressing on in your Christian life. Somewhere along the way, Jesus may set before you also a wonderful “open door.” Then it will be your highest privilege, your greatest joy, to walk through it with him.
ON THE OTHER SIDE
Perhaps someone is listening today who is on the other side of that door. You haven’t yet embraced the gospel. You haven’t welcomed Jesus as your Savior. I have some good news for you. Would you believe that Jesus, this risen Lord, wants entrance into your life? Listen to this word that he addressed to people in nearby Laodicea. “Listen, I am standing at the door knocking.” Imagine that – Jesus at your door! This is what he is saying to you, “If you hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to you, and eat with you, and you with me.” It’s your opportunity now to throw open the door of your heart and life to Jesus Christ, the one who died for you and rose again, the one who loves you and offers you forgiveness and eternal life. All you need to do is say “yes” to him, to open the door in trust and repentance, and he will come in.
Jesus has a final word for the church in Philadelphia. It’s simply this: “Hold fast to what you have.” Keep your hold on Christ and the word of his gospel. Keep on listening to him, walking with him, and he’ll do the miracles. He’ll bring the fruit; he’ll keep that door wide open. So hang on. Keep close to the Lord.
And beyond their trials, their toils and witness, a heart-tingling future awaits them. They will be pillars in God’s temple, and never have to leave it. They’ll have God’s name written all over them. Imagine it – these weaklings, these nobodies, will one day bear the Name above all names! Hallelujah! Praise be to the Lord of the open door!