Is Anything Too Hard for the LORD?

ESV Genesis 18:14 “Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Beloved in Christ, this is your question today: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

Sometimes you think there is something too hard in your life that even God cannot help you with. You believe, but sometimes you are inconsistent with what you say you believe. You believe in a sovereign God who rules over the world. You believe in the Almighty God who is maker of heaven and earth. You believe that God was made flesh and lived and died for you. You believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. You believe that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.

Yet your worry, anxiety and fears betray what you’re hiding, and they reveal a heart that wants to believe, more than actually does believe. As a Christian, you know the truths of God are infallibly true and wonderfully revealed to you in Scripture, but you often live inconsistently with these truths, and you’re easily troubled. But again, let God ask you: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

Abraham and Sarah waited a very long time to hold in their arms the baby that had been long promised to them by God. For twenty-five long years, they waited on the promise of God to be realized in their lives. There were times of strong faith, and also times of failure during their wait. In Genesis 18, God manifested Himself to Abraham and Sarah to assure them that His promises would come to past “next year” (18:10) —and Sarah laughs in unbelief, and then tried to deny that she had indeed laughed:

“So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” …. But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Genesis 18:12, 15).”

Isn’t she a bit like you and me?! Sarah couldn’t see how God could take her state of practical death in that she was too old to have babies, and grant her new life. Sarah could not conceive in her mind how she could ever conceive a child through God’s life-giving power. What God had promised was just a bit beyond her grasp of faith.

God knew also that she had laughed, and He was not angry with her and take away His gracious promises to her as it were. Rather, it was as if God was confronting Sarah with her laughter of unbelief so that she might see her sins, and might behold in Him the One who could do all things!

This is our God, dear congregation of Jesus! God reveals Himself and keeps His promises to us in spite of our lack of faith, and our silly, limited unbelief. God is always going to be faithful to His people even when His people are unfaithful to Him (2 Tim. 2:13). This in itself is a reason to ask yourself: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” God can do all things; even forgive our sins because of His mercy.

Whatever your worries, anxieties, and fears are revealing is wrong deep within your heart, you can go to God, with a mere seed of faith, and find a great and powerful Christ ready to forgive, ready to pardon, ready to receive and ready to give to you above and beyond what you could ever ask or imagine!

What are your worries today? What is it in your life that is too difficult for you? What threatens to overwhelm you in your fears? What is too great– too hard– too difficult for you?!”

But you say: “You don’t understand my situation.” You don’t understand that I have made this problem for myself, and I must get myself out.” “There is no way that you would ever understand the problems at my workplace…in my marriage…with my children…the change that never seems to come with myself!?”

Think on Christ. Jesus loves you, and he has lived and died for you. God permanently took upon Himself a human nature from the substance of the Virgin Mary, to unite God and man together forever in Him. In Christ, God did the unbelievable. The Incarnation is the “enfleshing” of God Almighty with the goal of securing your redemption! When God sent His Son into the world, it was with you and your hard situations in mind! God who is Spirit united Himself to a body; God who is infinite united Himself to finitude; God who is everywhere present, became local in Jesus; God who is all-knowing, became limited and learning. And all for us!

“Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Think about the Incarnation and how in Christ God reveals what is in our estimation the “impossible”. Remember: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). When the Angel Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary in the fullness of the times and told her that Jesus, the Son of God, would be born to her, she didn’t laugh- – but believed. This is how we too come to understand and believe.

We may not fully understand our situation (and many times will not!); we may doubt a bit in the power and grace of God toward us (this is a reality of weak faith in this life); but we are to bow before God in humility with the little faith we have in a great Christ, and say with Mary:

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

We are to simply seek to believe God’s Word to us. What is too hard for you today? This thing you are concerned about is never impossible with God. Believe. Think of the change that God has wrought in your heart by the power of the Spirit. Have you always believed? No! How did you come to believe in Christ in the first place? Was this not a mighty “impossible” display of God’s power in taking a hardened sinner far from God, and making your heart loving and teachable, and full of desire to follow Jesus?

Is this not a hard thing, too? Go back to your conversion, think on how the power of the Spirit came upon you to transfer you from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s son; how you were raised, like Lazarus, from the spiritual dead, and seated with Christ in the heavenly places; how you were dead in trespasses and sins, enslaved to sin and the devil, and you were raised to new life in Jesus! (Col. 1:13-14; Eph. 2:1-8; Col. 3:14). Truly, I ask you, when you think of the work that has begun in you, “Is there anything too hard for the LORD?”

Think of the work yet to be done because God is committed to you. He who began a good work will complete it in you! (Phil. 1:6). God is committed to changing us. Ask Him for more faith. Don’t keep your doubts from him, but rather confess them. If you laugh at what you find to be unbelievable at the moment, learn from Sarah, and don’t cover it up and lie to God. God knows our hearts, and He kindly deals with us not according to our sins, but he pities us knowing that we are but dust (Psalm 103:11-15). Like a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on us.

Confess your worries and anxieties and fears to God. Tell him how you are struggling. Go to God in Jesus Christ who wears your nature before the face of God to represent you as your Great and Faithful High Priest, and ask Him for more faith to trust and believe all that He has promised to you.

Then laugh. Laugh with a deep joy, and hearty, belly-like, robust laugh (a real guffaw!), that God is good. Laugh with all your heart knowing that Jesus is for you, and not against you. And if God be for you, who or what could possibly be against you, or harm you?! (Psalm 27:1ff; Romans 8:30ff). Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, so go and flourish in your faith, knowing that nothing can harm you (Romans 8:35-39). In Christ, you’re more than a conqueror over everything that God allows to come into your life!

The hardest, most difficult, trying, exasperating, soul-crushing, and painfully unbearable work that could have been imagined, or done by you or anyone else, has been done for you in the death of Jesus Christ.

What was impossible for us has been done for us. Our sins against God were a constant and permanent reminder that we owed God for every sin in our words, thoughts and our deeds. We owed God not only an infinite payment for the sinful condition and our actual sins, but also we owed him a perfect lifetime of righteous living according to His commands, for His glory alone.

We could never repay such a debt. But God did the impossible; God did what was hard for us. God sent His Beloved Son Jesus to perfectly keep His commands and earn all righteousness before Him for us. God sent Jesus, His Beloved Son to die and provide an infinitely valuable sacrifice for our infinite sin-debt against a Holy and Just God for us. God was satisfied with Jesus’ hard work on our behalf; Jesus was raised and vindicated as a permanent and eternal memorial that all who believe in Him have been forgiven. And this, very hard thing, by grace, because of God’s love, has been done, for us.




God is good and faithful.

Look to Jesus who loves you!

“Is there anything too hard for the LORD?”


In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs


“Death and the Christian Hope”

“Death and the Christian Hope” -1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

A Sermon for the Memorial Service for John Curtis Connor (1935-2011)

Note: This is the unedited version of the homily I was privileged to preach at John Connor’s memorial service. Thanks be to God for the privilege of leading the service of such a great man!

As Christians, we mourn in the death of our loved ones, but we mourn as those who have hope. We hope because of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. We now wait upon the Lord for the return of Jesus Christ and anticipate with great eagerness our heavenly reunion.

This is what we learn in 1 Thessalonians 4. The believers at Thessalonica had written to the Apostle Paul concerning the hope of those who had died. Their main concern: Would they also share in the resurrection? Was their hope for them? They needed God’s knowledge and insight into how to mourn. The Apostle Paul wrote:

ESV 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

As Christians, we mourn, but with hope. Notice in 1 Thessalonians 4, the Apostle Paul does not teach us that grieving and mourning are wrong when our loved ones die in the Lord. He does not forbid us to weep, grieve or mourn.

Rather, Paul teaches us that we do not have to “grieve as others do who have no hope” (4:13). There is a tremendous difference between our loved ones who die trusting in the righteousness of Jesus, and those who have no hope now for all eternity. When our loved ones reject Jesus, the only hope for dying sinners, there is every reason to grieve and to mourn without hope for that person.

But as Christians who lose our loved ones who were committed to Christ and trusting in His good words and in His righteousness alone, we can mourn, but with hope.

What is hope? Hope for the Christian who is trusting in Christ and the power of Jesus’ resurrection is not mere wishful thinking, but a confident and expectant trust in God’s Word, and in the completed work of Jesus Christ for sinners. “Hope” for the Christian is focused on God alone as He keeps His promises; and we simply believe God (Romans 15:13). By God’s grace we can abound in this hope, or confident and expectant trust in God’s Word to us!

What is death? Why do we still mourn if we believe that our loved ones are safe and sound in Jesus? Death is still a horrid monster and intruder into God’s good creation. Death is the judgment of God for sinful man seeking His own way and will apart from the way and will of God. We are taught in Genesis 3 that death was the result of man’s sin against God. For death to be removed, we must have our sins removed. We must have a loving Savior to take away our sins and to reconcile us to God; we have this in Jesus (Romans 5:6-11).

Death is not merely “part of life” as some will say without thinking. Death is the opposite of life that God gave mankind at creation in His presence; it is not supposed to be here. Death could never be just a “part of life”. Death is a hideous intruder and it should cause us to be “deeply moved” when we feel death’s affects in our loss and time of mourning.

When our loved ones die, and we attend funerals, we should especially be prayerfully considering the “weight” of loss and separation that death brings to all. We have all gone over to the casket somewhat apprehensively to view the body of our loved one; at this moment, prayerfully think about death. We often say at this moment: “He/She is not here; this is so strange.” This is death.

What did our Lord Jesus think about death? When Jesus our Lord was here in his earthly ministry, even though He possessed the power of life over death; even though He was anointed with the Holy Spirit beyond measure of any man or prophet before or since, he too, mourned death. We are told in John 11 when Jesus goes to visit his dead friend Lazarus’ family after Lazarus had died, he wept (John 11:35). We are also told that Jesus was “deeply moved” in His spirit by the hideous, terrifying specter of death (usually in this passage we focus on Jesus weeping as we should, but we overlook the entire context of John 11:33-38 where Jesus is also “deeply moved” in his spirit about death).

The word used that is of Jesus being “deeply moved” is a Greek word that describes the sound of horses “snorting” as in battle. It communicates a kind of inner “snorting outrage”. Our Lord Jesus was outraged by death. Jesus came to destroy death (Hebrews. 2:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:26). Death is a great enemy of Jesus that He came to destroy. Jesus our Lord, although He was King of kings and the very Lord of Life, wept and was outraged at death. This is our proper response to death. And Jesus displays His power and our hope in Him by raising His dear friend Lazarus from the dead after four days by the Word of His power! Amen and amen!

Why would our Lord Jesus be so outraged by death? Death separates. Death separates men from God; death separates loved from ones from us; death separates our bodies from our spirits (and/or souls). As humans we were created to live in the Life-Giving power and love of our Creator. We were never meant to live apart from this Life-Giving God and lover of our souls.

(1) Our sins have separated us from God. Death is the penalty and punishment or our transgressions. (2) Death takes our loved ones from us, and we are deeply moved, grieved, and saddened, because we are outraged that those we love are gone. (3) Death separates our incorporeal spirits from our bodies, and we were created by God to be embodied people who have spirits. To be human is to be both body and spirit/soul. We would never have left our bodies, and been separated from them if sin had not come into the world and cut us off from the life that is found in God alone!

But sin did come into the world. Man did sin against God, and God so loved His people that He sent Jesus to live and die for all who believe (John 3:16). God the Father sent His Beloved Son into the world to take upon human flesh. The Son lovingly and willingly came for His own to live perfectly for them, to die under the penalty of God’s judgment for their sins. Jesus in our flesh lived and died for us, so that we could live and die in Him.

Jesus came to love us so that our lives could be hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3-4). Let the Holy Spirit minister this great truth to you. Ask God to minister this truth more deeply in your heart and help you to seek the things that are above, where your life in Christ is hidden (Col. 3:1-2).

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice and His love to His people, he accomplished the righteousness in His life that we could never accomplish. God demands perfect righteousness of every human being, and what God requires in His holiness, God provide for all who believe in Jesus. Christ our Savior gives this righteousness to us by faith when we believe in Him. Jesus came to die and remain under the power of death for three days, and to be raised powerfully from the death with great glory; Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection! This is the hope the Apostle Paul speaks of in 1Thessalonians 4:14:

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. – 1 Thess. 4:14

Death will not have the final word. Death is Christ’s enemy to be fully vanquished and destroyed when He returns again. God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of those who mourn, and the former things will no longer be remembered. This is our great hope in our grieving and mourning now (Revelation 21:1-7).

We can be hopeful because of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead in power and glory. Our hope is a confident and expectant trust in what the Lord Jesus has done for us in His life and death.

Death is sleeping for the believer. Another truth that we see in this passage in chapter four of Thessalonians is that Jesus’ death has turned death into sleeping. Jesus’ death for believers has made our death like going to sleep and taking a short nap. Because of the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can rest in death, and close our eyes in this world of sin and misery to awaken in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ, beholding His beautiful face. The Apostle John gives believers this hope of seeing our Resurrected Savior and Lord (1 John 3:2):

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:2

What does the Apostle Paul mean by sleeping? He uses this term “sleeping” to describe the believers’ death four times in the context of chapter four of 1 Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul does not mean that our souls sleep, or that we are unconscious in our death state (no, Scripture is clear that we are conscious in death, whether it be in God’s presence in Christ or in judgment: Luke 16:19ff; also see Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; Luke 13:28)

What Paul means in using the term “sleeping” is to show that Christ in His resurrection has transformed death; Jesus has “tamed death” from the hideous monster it could be to us, and threaten us with slavery to fear it all the days of our lives (Heb. 2:14ff). No one really looks forward to death, and we very easily fear it. But Paul is saying that in Jesus, when our hope is in Jesus alone, death is merely “sleeping”. This is a tender term to describe how we cross from this present age to behold Christ in the age to come where He is at God’s right hand.

Do you remember Jairus’ story? Jairus was a synagogue ruler whose daughter was dying. We see an example of how death has been turned into sleep from this story (Mark 5; Luke 8). Jesus goes to Jesus asking Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus is willing but while he makes his way to Jairus’ daughters’ bedside, the beloved daughter dies. When Jesus finally arrives, Jesus finds the little girl dead. There are many mourners about the house crying out in pain and grief (as if they had no hope!).

Jesus comes into Jairus’ home with life-giving power and glory to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead. He tells all in Jairus’ home that the girl is only “sleeping”. Jesus takes the little girl’s hand, and calls out to her to awaken. He says very tenderly a command to the girl in Aramaic: “Talitha cumi”. This means: “Honey, get up!” as we would say to our children at the beginning of a new day (Mark 5:40ff). Jesus uses a term of endearment, like the language of “honey” or “sweet pea” that we might use for our dear daughters and sons.

Jairus’ little girl gets up immediately and beholds the face of Jesus Christ her Savior. This is a picture of how death has been turned into sleep. When we close our eyes in this present age, on this side of darkness and pain, in a world full of sin and misery, characterized by death, Jesus reaches out to our hands in death, pulls us to Himself by His strong and powerful command into life itself. We close our eyes to the darkness and sin of this world, and open our eyes to behold the light and life of Jesus’ glorious presence!

We go to sleep in death and we behold His precious face. This is why death is only “sleeping” now. Let this comfort you. Let this be your encouragement to others when they lose loved ones. Don’t try to avoid those who have lost their loved ones because you know not what to say and you feel awkward. Don’t make up some kind of sentimental theology that both you and the person grieving know deep down is not truth.

No, speak words of comfort, speak the truth in love; if the one who has died is a believer trusting in the righteousness of Christ alone. Tell them that their loved one, whom they have lost on this side, now beholds Christ’s face, and will return to be with them.

The nightmare of death is over for all who believe. As Psalm 23 teaches us “though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall not fear,” for Jesus is with us. Jesus has turned the nightmare of death into mere “sleeping”. Let us fall asleep in His arms, and find a loving and glorious Savior on the other side. Then we shall dwell in the presence of God for all eternity, and we shall forever experience the abundant life that we were created to enjoy and live on, as branches on a vine (see John 15).

As Jesus reaches out with a human hand that is from a human body that has experienced the hideous and dark powers of death, take his hand, and let Him grant you life in Him. Find your life hidden in Him as you receive Him as your only hope.

Only Jesus has the power to unite that which death has separated.

(1) Jesus has the power to reconcile you, and unite you to God, bringing you back back to Him to experience His loving grace and forgiveness. In Christ, you will never be separated from God and from His life-giving power ever again!

(2) Jesus has the power to reconcile you and unite you to your loved ones whom you have lost because of death. In Christ, you will never be separated from your loved ones who have fallen asleep in Jesus!

(3) Jesus has the power to reconcile our bodies and our spirits again, so that we are made who for all eternity. We will be like Him, and we will possess glorified bodies that will never grow old, suffer sicknesses of cancer and dreaded diseases, and grow tired, weak and weary!

Reach out and receive by faith the hope that is in Christ Jesus. Only Jesus can grant you this hope in death!

Otherwise, you will grieve and mourn as those without hope. But God loves to show grace, and lavish His grace and forgiveness on all who would take Christ’s extended hand. There it is. He extends it to you now. Behold the face of He who took death by the neck, has wrestled it to the ground, and taken out its sting (1 Cor. 15:56-58)! One day death will permanently be removed. This is because Jesus has lived and died for us—this is our hope in Him!

We look forward to a reunion! And what a family reunion it will be! We find out from this passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 that there will be a glorious reunion with our loved ones! Let us with great hope and confidence in God’s Word and the completed work of Jesus Christ look forward to the reunion (1 Thess. 4:15, 17-18).

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep…Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. – 1 Thess. 4:15, 17-18

The hope that the Apostle Paul teaches to us here is that our loved ones who have fallen asleep in the Lord will be raised from the dead one day just as Jesus has been raised. We who remain alive can hope in this glorious future resurrection, because it will also be a wonderful reunion. We have all attended family reunions and holiday celebrations where death has separated us from loved ones and they are not present as we wish they could be; this resurrection-reunion will be so sweet, so different from even our best family reunions here! We will be reunited together again–that is our hope! The Lord Jesus will take us up and we will be “together with him” and then “always with the Lord” (4:17).

Never to be separated again. Never to experience death and suffering again. Never to be away from the Lord and His life-giving presence again. Never any threat of sin, and temptation, and sin and misery. Never again. All of the sad things in this world of sin and misery will become “untrue” (as Tolkien says in Lord of the Rings Trilogy). Why?

Because Jesus has lived and died for us. He has done what only God could do (Rom. 8:3-4). God in Christ has given us life and life more abundantly in Jesus Christ. All we have to do is believe. Receive the Lord Jesus now. Call upon Him while He is near!

Beloved, let us remember the final admonition that we live “with Christ” whether we remain alive or have fallen asleep. Listen to how the Apostle Paul says this in 1 Thessalonians:

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

“Whether we are awake or asleep” let us “live with Him” (1 Thess. 5:10). Let your life be hidden with Christ by faith, and prayerfully seek to understand more of what this means in your life now. This means to serve Jesus and to love Jesus before all other people, and before all other things. Jesus is your only hope; let Him be your portion, your life, your love!

Jesus has given His life and died for you; he has purchased you by His precious blood shed for your sins on the cross. You have died (Romans 6:1-11), and your life is now hidden “with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3-4). When Christ who is your life appears, you will appear also with him. This means that you will then truly and really begin to live.

For now, even though we are “awake” and have not yet fallen asleep, we should live as one who has died. We who are united to Christ now but learn to die to self, die to sin, die to this world, and die to the service of Satan, and to now live for Christ because our lives are hidden safe and sound “with Christ” in our union “in Christ”.

If you are a believer, you have lived a perfect life in Christ; you have died a perfect death that paid the penalty of all sins against God in Christ; you now live in resurrection glory in Christ, even in this world. Ponder this anew.

Prayerfully consider that even in your loss of loved ones who have fallen asleep in Jesus, how you might live as one dead to sin and alive to God. Consider yourselves as one who has died, so that you might live in Jesus, and make Him known.

Glorify Him now. Even though you grieve and mourn, and even though you are outraged and deeply moved in your spirit by the nightmare of death, know that in Christ Jesus you have hope, and the nightmare is over.

Jesus promises to you: “Fear not, I am with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you. I am with you always even unto the end of the age.”

Give Jesus your life and find the hope that is beyond this life, beyond the grave, and that will continue for all eternity with the Lord!

And the next time you are seeking to comfort a brother or sister who has lost a loved one, remember that the best encouragement you can bring to those who suffer are the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.

Therefore encourage one another with these words.- 1 Thessalonians 4:18


We may think that we don’t know what to say, but for Christians, we can know what to say. And whether we are awake or asleep, let us live with Jesus. Amen.

Sleep in Jesus, dear John Connor. Thank you very much for showing to me and many others loyalty and faithfulness! “The Vicar” loves you very much and will look forward to seeing you again.


Love in Jesus,

Pastor Charles

“What the Spirit Says…Diligence and Discipline”

Word of Encouragement- The Church of Pergamum- “Diligence and Discipline”


“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”- Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22


“…We make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God…”- 2 Corinthians 5:9b-11a


Dear Beloved of the LORD at KCPC: I am writing short messages on the seven churches for our Word of Encouragement so that we might better assess where we are spiritually as a congregation, show us areas that need to be realigned with God’s Word, and how we might more effectively and sincerely make it our aim to please the Lord Jesus Christ!


If you would like to read the introduction to this short series, you may read here: Word of Encouragement


What are our strengths and weaknesses as a congregation? How can we ask God to better search and know us corporately? How are we doing at KCPC as a visible manifestation of Christ’s Kingdom on earth? Are we loving God and others as we did when we were first saved and gathered as Christ’s flock?


We will focus today on Jesus’ message to the Church at Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17)


And to the angel 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. Yet 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 teaching 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 soon 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 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.’


As we learned in our introduction to this series, it is important to remind ourselves that these seven congregations of the Revelation were real historical churches at the time that John the Apostle wrote his Revelation of Jesus Christ.  However, we want to understand that they are also symbolic of the entire church age between Jesus’ first and second coming.


This means that what Jesus says to the churches, we need to consider soberly for ourselves.  Jesus is still speaking to us (Hebrews 12:25).  Jesus is particularly speaking to His people in these letters as a corporate body and congregation of confessional Christians, and not merely as individuals. This is why it is good to use these letters to be assessed by Christ as we seek to grow in him as a body.


We should understand that through the reading and preaching of the Word in public worship, we at KCPC are also recipients of this important letter.  Jesus is addressing us, too!


Dear Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church…Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ, in Purcellville, Virginia:


“Dear Pergamum”: Jesus’ primary message to the congregation at Pergamum is:


A church must be diligent in following Jesus even to death, and must practice biblical disciple because there are ferocious wolves from without and wolves within (Acts 20:28ff).  A church must diligently endure persecution but also reject false teaching.  A Church must attend to the means of grace God has provided and practice Biblical discipline.


Final Prophet with Two-Edged Sword

The letter is addressed from the Lord Jesus Christ described particularly as “the Christ who has the sharp two-edged sword”—these are HIS words (v. 12; cf. v. 16; 1:16).  The sharp two-edged sword is symbolic for Christ’s Word to His people.  The two-edged sword is the sword of prophetic salvation and judgment.  As Isaiah said:


ESV Isaiah 49:2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away.


Christ is revealed as the Great and Final Eschatological Prophet of God at His right hand. Christ speaks like a two-edged sword that cuts two ways a two-edged message to His people: blessings for those who hear and believe, and curses for those who reject Him and His message.  The Apostle Paul describes Christ’s Word as the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17).  The Word of Christ cuts deep; the Word of Christ speaks salvation to those who believe and condemnation and judgment to those who reject it.  Christ’s Word is living and active upon our sinful hearts, penetrating deep to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12-13).


The Risen-Ascended Christ having the two-edged sword reminds us that the Book of Revelation is a book about the triumph of God’s Truth over Satanic lies and illusions and error and idolatry.  Christ’s words are truth and they condemn those who deny the truth.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life no one comes to the Father except through Him! (John 14:6).


Church Planting Near the Beast and Harlot’s Neighborhood

Jesus reminds us of His care for us: “I know where you dwell…” (v. 13a).  Isn’t it comforting that the LORD Jesus knows exactly where we live; what time period we are a part of, what our particular struggles are, etc.? The LORD knows those who are his and knows intimately where they live and move and have their being; God never leaves for forsakes his people.


This congregation at Pergamum dwells or has been planted or established “where Satan’s throne is” (v. 13a).


What does it mean that Pergamum is the location of “Satan’s throne”? The City of Pergamum was located about fifty miles north of Smyrna and the church had to contend against extremely strong pagan forces.  Pergamum was the location of the oldest temple devoted to idolatry that was first erected for the purpose of worshipping Caesar Augustus.  This very old temple in Asia Minor continued for the purpose of worshipping the Emperor of Rome.  Pergamum was the Roman capital of the Province of Asia; the city was like an ancient Washington D.C. in that it was the seat of Roman government for Asia Minor.


The congregation at Pergamum had to learn to fight the good fight in this world in the midst of both persecution and wickedness of all kinds.  As we learn in the larger Book of Revelation, the Church of Jesus must always be watchful and praying, learning to contend against “the Beast” which is a terrible image of government that exalts itself against God and persecutes believers in every age, as well as “the Harlot” who deceives folks through sexual immortality, wealth and the riches of this world (see chaps. 17-19).


Our congregation still faces today “the Beast” and “the Harlot”. The Beast is an image of Satan to cause Christians to compromise; the Beast is any threat of government opposition to the preaching of the Gospel; this may be more subtle in North America, but nevertheless, we do struggle against different types of persecution from the Beast. The Beast wants to cause Christians to compromise under its power. The Harlot is the sexual immorality, wealth and riches of the world that distract us daily and even on a moment by moment basis to give ups pursuing heaven and settle for the pitiful “pleasures of sin” for a season in this age that is passing away. Let us never forget that whether Satan attacks us with His power or with prostituting ourselves with the world, we are tempted to compromise; LET US STAND in the whole armor of God! (Eph. 6:10ff).


Government was instituted by God as his servant or “minister” (Romans 13) to wield the sword on behalf of God.  However, government can also be a tool or instrument used by Satan to hinder the Gospel and oppose Christ’s Church.  Pergamum was a great pagan city full of wickedness and idolatry and from the looks of things, from a limited perspective, Satan’s “throne” there seemed to have had much more power and authority than Christ’s Church.  The Church was to live by the Truth that proceeded out of Christ’s mouth rather than stumbling because of the way things seemed from their finite perspective.


The good news is that Christ is the Risen-Ascended-Enthroned King and although it may seem that like Satan’s throne is more powerful, the Gospel of Jesus will break through and possess the hearts of His Beloved people.  This is the hope for anyone called to preach the gospel in the midst of strong satanic paganism- -Christ’s throne is greater- -and He possesses as King of kings and Lord of lords all authority in heaven and on earth (Phil. 2:9-11; Matt. 28:18-20).


Later in the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John shows to us the reality of Christ’s power and throne over Satan:


Revelation 11:15-18: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants,1 the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”


As we proceed through the Book of Revelation we will see the Triumph of the Lamb who sits upon the throne as He overthrows all of His and our enemies.  The Book of Revelation is how the Lamb who sits upon the throne as King of kings and Lord of lords destroys all competing thrones that set themselves up against God and His Anointed One (Psalm 2).


Because of Christ’s intimate knowledge of His people, they can be assured that come what may, he will never leave them nor forsake them as the King who sits upon God’s throne! We can be confident that Jesus is our King and rules and reigns over heaven and earth.


Hold Fast and Be Faithful to the End!

Commendation of the LORD Jesus: Although Pergamum is located where Satan’s throne is they “hold fast” to Christ’s Name and they have not denied their faith in Jesus; even when persecution was so bad that Antipas was martyred as a faithful witness as a sacrifice before Satan’s throne, they did not deny Jesus (v. 13b).


The congregation of saints were walking by faith and not by sight; they were holding to the promises of God in the midst of tribulation (cf. 1:9).  Although they had suffered from being in a central pagan location, they had nevertheless been faithful to preaching the Gospel of Christ.


In fact, even though they lost one of their members named Antipas, perhaps even the pastor of the congregation, they did not deny Jesus.  Although they Kingdom of Satan dealt them a harsh blow, they kept the faith and did not back down from making the truth known.


Antipas as martyr is identified with Jesus Christ as he is called the “Faithful Witness” or “Faithful Martyr”- -to be a witness for Christ and to receive persecution for Christ’s sake is to be identified with him and to be blessed:


ESV Revelation 1:5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood


Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


But there were some things out of order that Jesus addressed to them so that the congregation through repentance might align themselves with Christ’s Holy Word!


Humble, Biblical Discipline is Necessary!

Correct/Rebuke to congregation from the Lord Jesus Christ: “But I have a few things against you…” (v. 14a).


What should we learn from Christ’s correction and rebuke from Jesus Christ as a congregation?


Jesus says that the congregation should have practiced humble, biblical discipline: You have as part of your congregation some who hold to the teaching of Balaam who taught Balak the king of Moab to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel… (v. 14b). By not removing the sinful teaching and behavior, it was putting a stumbling block before others in the congregation, causing them to stumble in their doctrine and life.


What does Jesus mean by “teaching of Balaam”?  You wil remember back in Numbers 22, Balaam gave Balak advice that led Israel to worship false gods and practice sexual immorality; Balaam advised King Balak to lure the Israelites into apostasy (Numbers 25:1-4; 31:8, 16).


ESV Numbers 25:1-4: While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang  them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.”


ESV Numbers 31:16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.


When Israel went astray in the Book of Numbers God told Moses to discipline the people and remove all of the sinful folks from the visible church through death.  Although this is not how discipline is practiced in the New Covenant era, the message is the same: remove the sinful leaven so that the loaf of the congregation will be holy unto the LORD.


The congregation at Pergamum did not practice discipline as they should have; they had allowed certain elements of unbelief and paganism to contaminate the congregation (this was a threat to the Gospel of Hope in that dark city).  If the sinful leaven is not removed, it will work through the whole batch and the light of the Gospel will be forgotten and lost.  Jesus’ rebuke is similar to the Apostle Paul’s words about discipline in the congregation at Corinth:


ESV 1 Corinthians 5:1-5: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.


These in the congregation are teaching some of the congregation that they can eat food sacrificed to idols and to practice sexual immorality (v. 14c).  Jesus is saying that within a congregation gross idolatry and fornication are not to be tolerated.  Behaviors like this are inconsistent with the profession of faith in the visible Church and must be removed.


Secondly, Jesus corrects and rebukes the congregation because they also tolerated some who held to the teaching of the Nicolaitans (v. 15).  Jesus ‘hates the works of the Nicolaitans’ which was a threat to the Church at Ephesus as well (Rev. 2:6).  The Ephesian Church was commended for hating the works of the Nicolaitans as Christ hates their works (2:6), but Pergamum was tolerating their teaching as well as the sexual immorality.


Jesus teaches to all congregations the importance of church discipline and why it must be humbly practiced in conjunction with the Word of God preached and applied to men’s souls.  Christ’s address to this congregation reveals that the Reformation teachers were correct when they made discipline in the visible church one of the key and foundational marks of the True Church along with right preaching of the Word and the proper administration of the Sacraments.


Many congregations then and now could be commended by Jesus for not denying the faith, and for faithfully preaching the gospel, but who would be rebuked by the Lord Jesus for not disciplining those who were idolaters, sexual offenders and false teachers within their pale. This is another reason why the Book of Revelation is so important for those who read it (Rev. 1:1-3). As churches between the first and second comings of Jesus, we can find out more particularly pleases Him, and what we will have to face at the Judgment Seat of Christ if we do not face it now.


We must remember that godly discipline in a congregation is to promote purity in life and doctrine for all the members. Discipline is to threaten in such a way that it will hold members accountable to Christ’s Word.  Discipline is a corrective and can restore sinful offenders back to fellowship with God.  When discipline is properly practiced, it can save souls from hell, and restore the repentant to full communion with the saints so that the person disciplined might grow in their assurance and joyfully await the return of Christ (rather than dreading it!).


Repentance and Forgiveness!

A call to repentance for the congregation: “Therefore repent!” (v. 16a).  God is not willing that any of his people should perish but for all His Beloved people to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  There is always opportunity for true repentance so that we might experience the full and abundant life of being in joyful fellowship and communion with God! God is good to His people when they leave their sins and return to their Lord Jesus in order to follow His two-edged teaching with more sharpness and more carefully!


Consequences for not hearing what the Spirit says to the churches (v. 16-17): “I will come to you soon and war against the false teachers with the sword of my mouth” (cf. v. 12; 1:16).  This shows by way of inference that what elders here bind on earth in the visible church by correctly disciplining according to God’s Word, it is bound in heaven; what elders loose on earth according to God’s Word is loosed in heaven (Matthew 18).


If discipline at Pergamum is not faithfully carried out, then Christ himself will come from heaven and discipline the offenders.  The implication is that if the pastor-elders use the Word of God to discipline the Nicolaitans in the congregation, then he won’t have to come in judgment- -it will have already been accomplished.  How would this happen?


Jesus is not promising to come back and judge, meaning the end of time when he returns to save and judge in his Second Coming.  Rather, Jesus is speaking of a providential acting with circumstances that will bring judgment upon the Nicolaitans and the congregation in general (Acts 5).


Blessings for All Conquerors in Christ!

Promises for those who hear what the Spirit says to the churches (v. 17): “To the one who conquers 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” (cf. 19:12; also 3:12; 14:1; 22:4).


The hidden manna is Christ’s promise of the abundant life.  In contrast to the pagan meals that some were a part of the idolatry in Pergamum, the believers could partake in Christ’s meal: Christ’s life given to them by faith NOW; the life of Christ communicated to them by faith in the Lord’s Supper NOW; and one day the Wedding Supper of the Lamb with Christ Himself for eternity (Rev. 21-22).


While idolatry and sexual immorality create the illusion of satisfying sinful mankind, Christ will feed his people physically and spiritually with his LIFE and Spirit now and for eternity.  Manna was kept in the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place in the tabernacle (Exodus 16:33-35; Heb. 9:4).  This symbolized Christ as the Bread of Life that feeds and nourishes His people.


ESV Exodus 16:33-35: And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept. The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.


ESV John 6:32-36: Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.


The promise of the white stone: We should remember that white is the Biblical color for purity and holiness (cf. 7:13).  The white stones were white marble that was very valuable in Pergamum in the ancient world.  Christ is promising to give something of great value, more valuable than all of the riches of Pergamum, that will reveal his intimate knowledge of His people: He knows his people by name.


ESV Isaiah 62:2 The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.


Christ loves his people and the reason for this letter (as well as the letters to the other 6 congregations) was to teach Christ’s Church in the Inter-Adventual period to continue to persevere by His grace.


Christ’s Word is a means of grace, or a means by which Christ tells His people who he is, what he has done for them, and how they can persevere by faith.


Those who persevere to the end will realize that they are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:31-39), but by His grace they must realize this every day as they persevere to the end keeping their eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfector of their faith.


Let us at KCPC make every opportunity to seek Christ’s means of grace to persevere.  May we continue to hear and believe and trust Christ’s Word as He continues to lead us to the Promised Land.  Let us partake of the Sacraments, knowing that we are partaking by faith of Christ, the Bread of Life, the Manna from Heaven, and He will satisfy the longings of our hearts, and feed us with heavenly food.


Let us practice as a congregation biblical discipline so that we might remain pure as the people of God, and that sinful offenders in life and doctrine might repent and be restored to fellowship with God before it is too late.


May these devotional studies of assessment from Jesus using the letters to the seven churches of the Revelation cause us to better align ourselves with His truth, and encourage us all to make it our aim to please Jesus who died for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:6-8).


May we live daily as a congregation before the face of Christ and so before the Judgment Seat of Christ. When we all arrive at our destination and we stand as the congregation KCPC before Christ’s Judgment, may these short devotions have better prepared us, so that we can stand confident and encouraged in the Lord Jesus’ presence.


“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”- Jesus Christ


In Jesus’ love,


Pastor Charles




Words without Christ- “Why Sin and Suffering?”

Word of Encouragement


Almighty God asks: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?!”– Job 38


Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ at KCPC,


Recently, I had an excellent question asked to me about suffering and our sins.


The question was concerning someone from another congregation in our community who has been suffering great sickness for some time and was told by another well-meaning Christian (not from our congregation!!) that they were suffering because of some specific sin, and that they needed to find out what sin they had committed and repent.  The “friend” of this sufferer told the dear sick person that she must obviously be in some grievous sin, to be so sick for so long.  She told her that all sickness and disease is a direct result of our sin.


We should understand that this kind of thinking is very unbiblical, fraught with dangerous consequences for those who hold to this aberrant theology, and promotes self-righteousness in those who believe it (not to mention the despair in dear sufferers it is administered unto). We should avoid thinking this way, and offer other answers for our friends and family members who suffer, answers that are rooted in Biblical truth.


Here was my answer to the question.


First of all, I am so sorry that your friend was carelessly told this unbiblical view from another person. I’m afraid that I have heard that kind of false teaching “on the street” in this area, and I can only say that our Lord Jesus and the larger teaching of Scripture denies this to be the truth. This kind of teaching that sickness is a direct result of a particular sin is similar to the so-called “friends” of Job who thought that Job was experiencing the calamity and sickness of his life because of some particular sin he had committed.


Clearly, in the Book of Job, God rebukes Job’s “friends” for this false theology.


The Book of Job opens up with a “behind-the-scenes” look at our loving, merciful and Sovereign God who brings calamity because He is going to use it to train his child and make him more godly and ultimately Christ-like (see the closing chapters of Job in how God teaches Job about the fact that everything he went through was for God’s glory and Job’s good, chapters 38-42, particularly the closing chapters of Job 42).


Rarely does someone suffer in this life as Job did, and yet the purpose of the Book of Job is to reveal God as great and good, and to teach that God allows suffering to grow his people in godliness. But the suffering, illness, and/or affliction is not in direct result of a person’s sin, because the Book of Job says Job was righteous in God’s sight, and although a sinner saved by grace, he “never did sin against God” in questioning God, etc.


For teaching like your friend heard about her sickness being a direct result of a sin she had committed, God would respond, and has responded (Job 38:1) with these words:


“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” ; and read this at the end of Job:


ESV Job 42:1-7: Then Job answered the LORD and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.


Job was able to know God better through his illness and suffering–but he went through his affliction not because of some particular sin he had committed. The purpose of the Book of Job is to teach that sickness, suffering and/or affliction is NOT directly caused by specific sins, but so that God’s children might know Him better through suffering; so that they can understand a bit better things too “wonderful for them”, and to be able to see and know God’s goodness with eyes that only a sufferer in Christ has (see the false teaching of those who would teach otherwise in Job 8:4; 24:19; 33:27; 35:3, 6– God rebukes this thinking as in Job chapters 38-42 mentioned above)!


You could say that those who counsel with words without knowledge are those who ultimately counsel others with words without Christ!


We must understand that God’s Spirit always leads His people to God for help, outside of oneself to find hope.  God’s Spirit leads suffering people out of themselves so that they would behold a glorious Christ (Job: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…”).


If a Spirit-filled person is ministering to you as you suffer, you will know that the person is from God and is being biblical in their advice to you because they will point you away from your sin, your suffering, and from what you deserve by nature outwardly toward God so that you find His mercy in Jesus. Only our sinful flesh and the accusing devil himself would lead a suffering child of God back into themselves for answers (see the work of the Spirit of God in John 14-16).


For those who point a person away from God to oneself, there is this message from God: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?!”.


Notice also more clarity on this kind of thinking about sin and suffering from John 9:1-5 where our Lord and Savior heals a man born blind.


Notice how the misunderstanding in the time of the disciples (like Job’s “friends”) was to think that if one was suffering then that must mean that they have done something particularly sinful. We should remember that the default mode of sinful human nature is works-righteousness, so you would expect the thinking at this self-righteous level to be: “If I do bad, I suffer; If I do good, I enjoy my life, etc.” But this is unbiblical as our Lord points out to his generation and ours today:


John 9:1-5: As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”


In John 9:1-5, when the disciples get a glimpse of the blind beggar and see him for the first time they ask Jesus the age-old faulty theological question of whether this man or his parent’s sinning was the cause of his blindness.  Jesus answers (as God answers Job’s “friends” in Job 38-42) that his blindness was so that the works of God might be manifest in his life and God would be glorified (John 9:1-5).


In other words, Jesus says that the reason why the man is blind is so that others might see God’s glory in his being made to see.  Concerning the theology question asked by the apostles, it is assumed by them that a particular sin is the ultimate reason for any physical sicknesses, but we cannot say that just because someone suffers a physical ailment it must be due to a particular sin.  Jesus says that it is so that God may be glorified. 


We should understand that there is always a general connection or relationship between the fall of man and our physical and spiritual ailments and/or sicknesses, but only God knows the specific connection between a particular sin and sin’s effects in our lives. It is true that had we not sinned in Adam, had there been no fall of man, then there would be no sin and sickness at all in the world (and that is the hope of the New Creation, Revelation 21:3-7).


However, we should never try to understand a cause and effect kind of relationship to our particular sins and sicknesses. We are all far more sinful that we can imagine anyway. None of us get what we truly deserve. In Christ, we get grace and mercy, even though we suffer. Suffering is a result in a general way because of our sin- -the fall of mankind. But why God allows some to suffer in certain ways and other in other ways is beyond us.


All we can say for sure is that God uses it to make His children humble and holy like Jesus; God calls us to it so that He will be glorified and we will grow in Christ-likeness.


We should be careful of trying to figure out God’s reasons in allowing certain manifestations of physical illnesses in the life of men and women.  We simply do not know.  We know that God is Sovereign and that God is good and he allows these physical manifestations in certain lives for his own good purposes (Deut. 29:29).


When someone tries to say that a person’s sickness is a direct result of a particular sin, they reveal that they have a low or impartial view of sin and human nature; they are deceived.  Often these kind of folks think that they have made more progress in their walk with God than they truly have. Those who are blinded by self-righteousness think that if they do good for God, then He will do good to them and they will not suffer, but this is Pharisaical thinking. They think if they are sick it is specifically because they have sinned or been unrighteous before God. Again, this reveals a works-righteousness mentality.


We should understand that we do good for God as believers in Christ because we are commanded to do it, and in Christ we are privileged to do it, but this does not mean that we will not suffer. Often those who are making the most progress in the Christian life are the folks whom God chooses to suffer greatly for Him! (See the cross and the Son of God!).


Again the words of God to the so-called “friends” of Job are appropriate here: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?!” And those who counsel with words without knowledge are those who ultimately counsel others with words without Christ!


Jesus is wise in his response in John 9 to his disciples’ faulty theology: Rather than allowing the disciples to pursue the mysteries of God’s dealings with man and his sin, he graciously explains to them that in this particular case, with this particular man, his blindness was for the glory of God to be revealed in the Person and Work of Jesus.


This was to shed light for those who have eyes to see, so that they might reach out in their spiritual blindness for salvation in Christ and be healed!  The question should not have been a “why” question as much as a “who” question.


When we suffer, and when we suffer with brothers and sisters who are suffering, we do not want to go down the path of asking and/or seeking to answer the “WHYs” (that is, the ‘WHY questions’) so much as to minister and point to the WHO in our words of counsel.


We ask these questions: WHO has suffered for you-  – before you? WHO has died for you? WHO will never leave you nor forsake you? WHO will uphold you by His righteous right hand?


JESUS. Jesus is the WHO. The WHY is not wise counsel, and is often very crippling and cruel to others when they are suffering. Why? Because you have just taken their eyes off their only hope (WHO) and placed their eyes on themselves (WHY).


When we suffer, all of us can find enough sinful junk within our hearts to damn our souls to hell and plenty of good reasons why we should be suffering- -but this is not the way of Scripture and the Holy Spirit.


The Spirit of God leads us out of ourselves especially during suffering to find comfort and grace in our Savior (WHO).


Let the Spirit of God lead you as you suffer and help those who suffer to Christ, not to focus them on their particular sins. Let us all daily repent of our sins, and live our lives faithfully before God, but let us never seek to find a particular cause and effect relationship in our sins and the sins of others.


In John 9 (and in the Book of Job), we should be reminded that the real questions in life for the Christian are **NOT** the WHY QUESTIONS such as “Why is this person blind?” Or, “Why does God allow this calamity and physical illness to befall this person?” Or, “Why does God allow me to suffer?”


But rather (if we’re going to ask a WHY question), “Why are we not all born physically blind and handicapped with physical illnesses because of sin?” (cf. Luke 13).  But again, the answer to our suffering is in the glorious and comforting WHO question: “Who is my only hope and comfort in both life and death, but the Lord Jesus Christ?!”


The important point made by the Lord Jesus in this passage in John 9 is that although we are not all born physically blind (the Pharisees in the passage who are angry at Jesus could see clearly God’s world around them), we are all born spiritually blind and with an inherent inability to see the things of God in the world or in Christ apart from the power and light of the Holy Spirit reaching deep into our dark hearts and saying with authority as God did in the creation:


“Let there be light…and their was light” (Romans 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6).


Without the work of the Holy Spirit illuminating God’s Word and leading us to Jesus Christ we cannot see anything in our lives as we should.  The Spirit takes us to Christ in our suffering so that God would be glorified in us!


Anyone who has the audacity to tell another poor soul who is suffering that God wants them to repent of a particular sin and they will be made better, is a person who thinks too highly of themselves. This is someone who is more afflicted and suffering before God in their blindness than they realize. They are dangerously leading the sufferer away from their only comfort in Jesus Christ, and thus they become the “blind leading the blind”!


I will pray that God would make this clear to your friend and comfort her in her time of suffering. I would encourage her to know God’s hand is good and powerful and this is her privilege to suffer with and in Christ Jesus, as the Apostle Paul says:


ESV Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…


All of God’s greatest servants suffered in order to be made like Christ Jesus in His death and resurrection, and through suffering and death to self, they became more like Christ (Hebrews 11).  Suffering with Christ is God’s wise and mysterious way of making us privileged to be His dear and beloved children (Hebrews 12:5ff), and causes us to grow in holiness or Christ-likeness. According to Hebrews 12:5-12, the ones who actually should be concerned about their sins against God, **are those who DO NOT SUFFER** they may very well be illegitimate children as Hebrews 12 teaches. But that is for God to decide.


Let us love and serve Him no matter what our Master calls us to do for Him. Let us serve Him and worship Him by His grace!


And let us bring godly counsel that is full of the Holy Spirit and full of JESUS CHRIST to our suffering brothers and sisters, so that they might find God’s mercy, grace and comfort in both life and death.


In Christ’s love,


Pastor Charles


“What the Spirit Says…Tried and True”

Word of Encouragement- The Church of Smyrna- “Tried and True”


“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”- Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22


“…We make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God…”- 2 Corinthians 5:9b-11a


Dear Beloved of the LORD at KCPC: I am writing short messages on the seven churches for our Word of Encouragement so that we might better assess where we are spiritually as a congregation, show us areas that need to be realigned with God’s Word, and how we might more effectively and sincerely make it our aim to please the Lord Jesus Christ!


If you would like to read the introduction to this short series, you may read here: Word of Encouragement


What are our strengths and weaknesses as a congregation? How can we ask God to better search and know us corporately? How are we doing at KCPC as a visible manifestation of Christ’s Kingdom on earth? Are we loving God and others as we did when we were first saved and gathered as Christ’s flock?


We will focus today on Jesus’ message to the Church at Smyrna.


It is important to remind ourselves that these seven congregations of the Revelation were real historical churches at the time that John the Apostle wrote his Revelation of Jesus Christ.  However, we want to understand that they are also symbolic of the entire church age between Jesus’ first and second coming.


This means that what Jesus says to the churches, we need to consider soberly for ourselves.  Jesus is still speaking to us (Hebrews 12:25).  Jesus is particularly speaking to His people in these letters as a corporate body and congregation of confessional Christians, and not merely as individuals. This is why it is good to use these letters to be assessed by Christ as we seek to grow in him as a body.


We should understand that through the reading and preaching of the Word in public worship, we at KCPC are also recipients of this important letter.  Jesus is addressing us, too!


Dear Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church…Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ, in Purcellville, Virginia:


Jesus’ letter to the Church at Smyrna reminds us of the challenging truth that a church can be considered faithful by the Lord Jesus and yet suffer.


Suffering and tribulation are part of being faithful to God’s Kingdom as the Church Militant in his world.


The truth revealed here is: An outwardly rich and successful church (numerically as in attendance, and/or programs provided) does not necessarily mean it is a faithful church; an outwardly “poor” and “unsuccessful” church (in the eyes of the world) that suffers for their faith does not necessarily mean that it is an unfaithful church.


“To the angel of the church in Smyrna” (v. 8a).  Smyrna is one of only two of the seven churches that receive only encouragement from the Lord Jesus.


Where was Smyrna? It was located in Asia Minor about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus.  The Church Fathers, particularly Irenaeus wrote that the Apostle Paul had stayed in Smyrna on his missionary travels.  Church history also reminds us of the great Pastor Polycarp who died a martyr’s death at Smyrna in the second century.  Pastor Polycarp had learned from, and been friends with the Apostle John.


The letter is from our Lord Jesus, particularly describing Himself thus: “The first and the last, who died and came to life (v. 8b; cf. 1:17-18).  Jesus is the Great God in the flesh and yet his knows of this suffering congregation of saints.  Jesus is the first and the last, yet he is also the Compassionate God who speaks to his people.  Jesus is the God who is Transcendent, yet so close. Jesus is the one who suffered unto death and gave His life for us, so that we would willingly our lives and be faithful unto death for Him!


Jesus has nothing to rebuke this church about, but he has a reminder-warning to them about what they are to expect as partners in the “tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus” (1:9). Listen to the kindness and compassion of the Lord Jesus:


“I know your tribulation…” (v. 9a)


“I know your poverty…(but you are rich)” (v. 9a; cf. James 2:5; for “rich in good works”- 1 Tim. 6:18)


Notice that no matter how overlooked and unappreciated and threatened by the world the Church at Smyrna was, Jesus compassionately sympathizes with them in their weakness as their great High Priest who lives to intercede for them at the Throne of Grace (Heb. 4:14-18).


The City of Smyrna was a very rich one.  In contrast, the Church of Smyrna did not live up outwardly to that rich and luxurious reputation; the church was considered poor in the eyes of the world.  Smyrna Church had no big buildings or lofty cathedrals, they were probably not very large in numerical size, and probably did not have a lot of exciting congregations to “wow” the crowds- –yet they were commended by Christ for their riches and success in faithfulness!


The Christ who was rich and made himself poor for our sakes, tells the Church of Smyrna that from God’s objective perspective (regardless of what folks on earth think) that the Church at Smyrna is rich in Gospel truth and eternal blessings! 


In our finite and limited judgment here on earth we are not good judges of whether a congregation is rich or impoverished, successful or unsuccessful.  We can however draw some implication-inference-conclusions from what Jesus says here to the Church at Smyrna.


Lots of congregations of Christ that seem rich and successful may not be.  Christ says later in his letter to the Church at Laodicea:


ESV Revelation 3:17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.


What makes a congregation rich? It is **NOT** money, power, fame, a radio show, and lots of people flocking to the worship necessarily.  According to Jesus what makes a congregation rich is how much they are rich in good works, that is, congregations show forth their knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus in how they live before God and the world.


Remember the way our LORD defined true riches:


ESV Luke 12:15, 21: And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions…So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”


The congregations who are rich in God’s Gospel, and are heirs to the riches in heaven can be small in number and yet many times will be in a world of sin and misery (although there are exceptions).


It does not matter a hill of beans how large a congregation is, numerically speaking.  Among ministers and even members of church congregations there can oftentimes be a kind of boasting about how big one’s building is, how large and loud the organ is; how many folks worship on any given Sunday, and how great and charismatic the pastor is.


All of these perks can be good (if they do not distract from the mission), but if the church is without the true gospel and the “richness in good works” it is a failure according to Jesus (as we will see in Jesus’ address to other congregations in Asia Minor).


We should be careful when we see a faithful, Gospel-preaching congregations dwindle down according to God’s mysterious providence, that we do not think them as poor, when they may be rich.


Again, we are poor judges of what constitutes a truly rich congregation (1 Corinthians 4:3-4, 7)!  But you can know them by their Gospel fruit (cf. Matt. 7).


Jesus says: “I know the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan…” (v. 9b; 3:9-10; John 8:31-59; Philippians 3:3; Romans 2:25-29).  Apparently Non-Christian Jews were claiming to the Roman government that the Church at Smyrna was not a Jewish sect, but was a non-Jewish group with the implication that they were an “unauthorized” congregation of saints (Jewish sects were protected by the Roman Empire at this time in history).  This would have caused trouble for the confessing members of the Smyrna Church because if they were not a Jewish sect then they had to offer idolatrous worship to the emperor.  If they did not offer this idol worship, then they would have been persecuted and most likely killed.


In light of this, the Risen-Ascended Christ tells the Church of Smyrna that they indeed are the true Jews and because of this, they will suffer persecution.  Jesus wants the church to understand herself not only as the True Jews by faith, but also that their citizenship is in heaven.  Persecution of the congregation will be provoked by false Jews and the Kingdom of Rome.


We don’t want to miss that here is the Risen-Ascended Christ’s assessment of **unbelieving** Jews.  This is consistent with what he preached in his earthly ministry and what was clearly interpreted by the Apostle Paul.


This is in no way Anti-Semitic as we might call it; this is the LORD of history evaluating what a true Jew is, and is not (cf. Romans 2:28-29).  Those synagogues in the 1st century who did not receive the Gospel revealed themselves as those who did not belong to Christ or his Church regardless of their outward success in adherents or numbers of worshippers; by rejecting Christ they were rejecting their right to be called children of Abraham (see John 8:31-59).


There were those who were Jewish ethnically who also became True Jews through faith in Christ.  Although they would have been rejected by the Synagogue (of Satan for their profession of faith), they were members of the Church of Smyrna.


In fact, it was those who were Jewish ethnically who were opposing and oppressing many of Christ’s followers.  The Church was being persecuted in Christ (Acts 9).  Remember that pagans and Rome persecuted the early church, but also the unbelieving Jewish synagogues as we learn in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.


Jesus says to the Apostle Paul who was of the synagogue of Satan before his conversion-regeneration, those who persecute Christ’s Church are those who persecute Christ; and those who persecute Christ are not true Jews.  A True Jew is a “Spirit-filled’ Christian, one united to Jesus Christ by faith whether Jew or Gentile by birth!


Jesus says: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer…” (v. 10a).


God grants mercy to many congregations of the world and allows us to live without persecution often in our lives.  However, the Church of Jesus Christ is to expect nothing less than persecution and not to be surprised when it comes along; persecution is allowed by God to make us more like Jesus Christ and it is not to surprise us!


Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory1 and of God rests upon you. – 1 Peter 4:12-14


We may not understand the suffering and persecution in the United States as well as other countries and nations in this world.  We may have plenty of prosperity and time on our hands to interpret the Book of Revelation as wholly a future, speculative “riddle” to be unlocked by our interpretive genius. 🙂 (That’s not completely unfair, is it?)


But as I have tried to make clear in our introduction.  The Book of Revelation is about hope in suffering in this present age.  The book is not for fanciful self-centered interpretation, but given to the Church as God’s Word to encourage perseverance in persecution and suffering!


Let’s talk a bit more globally about the True Church of Jesus and how those who suffer could benefit from Christ’s letter here (and hopefully if as Americans we find ourselves one day similar circumstances we will be strong enough through Word and Sacrament to face the persecution onslaught):


The World Evangelical Alliance estimates that 200 million Christians live in societies today where they are threatened with imprisonment, torturing and martyrdom.  Many Christians in Muslim countries undergo daily persecution and it is reported that Communist North Korea is perhaps the most dangerous place on earth to confess Christ openly and own a copy of the Scriptures.  In North Korea Christians are brutalized in prisons for their confession and profession of Jesus Christ.


In 2006 in Eritrea on the Continent of Africa (Northeast Africa), it was reported that almost 2000 Christians were imprisoned for their faith.  On June 6th 2009, Pastor Hua who faithfully preaches the gospel in Beijing, China was taken as he was changing trains and taken to a hotel and beaten by officials.  They reportedly said to him: “I’m going to strangle you and I’d like to see whether you can still preach the gospel” (officials also threatened to arrest his wife).  The Chinese “Domestic Security Protection Squad” is set up to suppress the spread of the Gospel.


One of the first messages of the Persecuted Church that I have read is, even before presenting the news: “Pray for us!”


We must seek to pray for these persecuted Christians at all times (Eph. 6:18), and we must seek to prepare ourselves for possible persecution like this in the future.  Here is one way we could pray (from the Book of Common Prayer):


Prayer: “Grant that we, who now remember these before thee, may likewise so bear witness unto thee in this world, that we may receive with them the crown of glory that fadeth not away; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” – taken from The Book of Common Prayer


In order to have knowledge of the Church’s persecution, and to pray specifically, you can read the updates from our missionaries in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church on our website; you can Google “Christian Persecution” or “The Persecuted Church” or go to “The Voice of the Martyrs” to learn more about the “Persecuted Smyrnans” throughout the world.  We may not all agree fully doctrinally and confessionally on every point with every persecuted Christian throughout the world, but we must admit that those who are truly preaching the Gospel are strong warriors for Jesus who are standing up to unbelief by the giving of their own lives.


Prediction of suffering: “Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison…” (v. 10b).  It is important to note that the devil, the Adversary and Enemy of God and His people is the force behind all of the church’s persecution.  This is why Jesus tells us to overcome those who are the Church’s enemies with love rather than vengeance.


The devil is God’s instrument and sometimes God allows the devil to be used to bring about His sovereign purposes- -but we are called to love our enemies as ourselves (see Romans 12:12-21).  Listen to how the Apostle Paul teaches the persecuted Smyrnan Church in his Epistle to the Romans:


Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it1 to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:12-21


Knowing that good comes out of our suffering persecution, we are to overthrow the power of the devil, and overcome evil by doing loving good in God’s Name.  We do not retaliate or seek vengeance to repay our enemies in God’s Name, but we seek to love, bless, serve, and witness God’s power through our suffering and persecution!


Suffering is part of our union with Christ; Suffering is not outside God’s sovereignty and purposes for His Church Militant.


What is God’s purpose in our suffering?: “…That you may be tested, and for ten days will have tribulation (v. 10b; cf. 1:9; 2:2-3; Matthew 24:7-9; John 16:33).  What makes a true and rich church of Jesus Christ? From this passage it is clear:


1) A congregation who professes the true God and Jesus Christ as the only hope of salvation; 2) A congregation who understands suffering as part of God’s revealed will and purpose for His church to make them holy like Christ; and 3) A congregation who loves Christ more than their own lives and would be willing to die for Christ.


Notice the specific “ten days” of tribulation.  Now this does not mean literally 10 days but is taken from the Book of Daniel (as much of John’s imagery and numbers are taken from Daniel and the Old Testament prophets).  Remember the 10 days that Daniel and his friends underwent the test of not partaking of the king’s idolatrous food.


The 10 days are symbolic of a sovereign time set by God that would be limited in duration, and that could indeed by accomplished by God’s grace.  The “testing” will only be temporal; the “testing will be “manageable” and “doable” by God’s grace to them as they walk by faith and not by sight- -just as Daniel and his friends did as exiles and strangers in an evil world.


As Jesus says to those who love not their lives unto death (2:10):


“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life…” (v. 10c; Matthew 10:21-22; Rev. 12:11; James 1:12)


“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (v. 11a)


“The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (v. 11b; “second death”: Rev. 20:6, 14; 21:8)


How does the persecuted and suffering Church conquer- -even through death?


And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.- Revelation 12:10


Remember Who the letter is from: “The first and the last, who died and came to life (v. 8b; cf. 1:17-18).  Jesus is the Great God in the flesh who laid down his life to die for the sins of His believing Church.  Jesus was raised from the dead and lives to rule and reign and watch over the Church at God’s right hand!


In Christ we suffer; in Christ we die; in Christ we live!


Death cannot hold us- -where O death is your sting? Where O death is your victory?- -We will be raised with Christ to experience eternal blessedness in the presence of God.


Confessing Christians will not experience the second death of eternal torment and hell.  A short endurance and life of suffering is not worth comparing with the grace to be revealed to the overcoming Church Triumphant:


ESV Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.


ESV Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him…


A short unbelieving life of denying Christ is not worth comparing to the curse to be revealed at the end of the ages.  As the Apostle John later shows to us in the Book of Revelation concerning the second death:


ESV Revelation 20:14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.


ESV Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”


The Book of Revelation is to encourage the godly in Christ to continue to accept suffering and persecution for the Name of Jesus, while looking forward to a great eternity of bliss and peace in the presence of God!


ESV 1 Corinthians 2:9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”


The Book of Revelation is to discourage the ungodly who deny Christ to be warned now for their causing suffering and persecution to the Church for Jesus’ Name.


The ungodly are to understand that the second death of eternal torment and hell await if they do not repent, join the throng of suffering martyrs, confess Jesus Christ before God and man as King of kings and Lord of lords!


Christian: Do not fear but hope in the LORD as one who will conquer in reliance upon God’s grace.  No matter what suffering and/or persecution may come, let us learn to say with our Old and New Covenant brethren:


ESV Psalm 56:11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?


ESV Psalm 118:6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?


ESV Hebrews 13:6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”


In light of God’s grace, let us be careful that we do not compromise God’s truth and live apathetically in this world.


May we at KCPC seek to witness the truth of God’s Gospel in every aspect of our lives and experience the suffering and tribulation that God allows by His grace so that we can be a “rich” and “successful” congregation in every way before God’s face.


May these devotional studies of assessment from Jesus using the letters to the seven churches of the Revelation cause us to better align ourselves with His truth, and encourage us all to make it our aim to please Jesus who died for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:6-8).


May we live daily as a congregation before the face of Christ and so before the Judgment Seat of Christ. When we all arrive at our destination and we stand as the congregation KCPC before Christ’s Judgment, may these short devotions have better prepared us, so that we can stand confident and encouraged in the Lord Jesus’ presence.


“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”- Jesus Christ


In Jesus’ love,


Pastor Charles