Today’s text: Zechariah 13-14 Revelation 3-4
In the early 19th century John Paton announced his intent to take his wife and child to an island in the South Pacific called Vanuatu. Paton was aware that just 19 years prior, missionaries, John Williams and James Harris had been one shore only a few minutes when they were clubbed to death and later eaten by cannibals. Paton was confident that God had called him to the people of Vanuatu. He looked to the leadership of his church for support and encouragement but their response could be summarized in the words of one elder, Mr. Dickson, who exclaimed, “You will be eaten by cannibals!” Paton’s response was bold, “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” Paton’s faith was even more sorely tried when in less than four months after his arrival he dug, with his own hands, a grave for his wife and infant son. When thinking back on that day he wrote, “Stunned by that dreadful loss, in entering upon this field of labor to which the Lord had Himself so evidently led me, my reason seemed for a time almost to give way. . . . But for Jesus, and the fellowship he vouchsafed to me there, I must have gone mad and died beside the lonely grave!” Four years Paton toiled with little fruit to show for his sacrifice. Finally, one day he and his handful of converts found themselves surrounded by hostile natives intent on killing them. Paton and the others fled but were soon overtaken. Paton records the event in his own words, “They encircled us in a deadly ring and one kept urging another to strike the first blow or fire the first shot. My heart rose up to the Lord Jesus. I saw Him watching all the scene. My peace came back to me like a wave from God. I realized that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done. The assurance came to me as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leave the bow . . . without the permission of Jesus Christ, who is all power on heaven and earth. He rules all nature, animate and inanimate, and restrains even the Savage of the South Seas.”
Many of us can relate to the words of Paton because we have experienced moments of truth. Moments when standing for the gospel cost something. Perhaps we have not had to stare into the face of death as Paton did but we have had to stand knowing that doing so would cost us our job, or a friendship or would result in having to endure hardship, ridicule or jeering from our peers. Such was the case with the church at Philadelphia. They had elected to stand steadfast despite present and persistent persecution that threatened their very existence.
So how do we find the courage to hold on? In the encouragement that Jesus brings to Philadelphia he reminds them of several points:
- He reminds them of who He is, “the holy one the true one, who has the key of David.”
- He reminds them of who they are before him, “I know your works.” “You have kept my word.”
- He reminds them of their passion, “Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”
Lets look at it one more time so that he who has an ear, may hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
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 opens. 8 “‘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. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie- behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, 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, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:7-13