by Roger McCay
20 June 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 3:7-13
Link to Audio Version
You may have heard of the band called Skillet. They’re pretty unusual in that they are a distinctly Christian rock band who have been making headways in mainstream music for a decade. The lead singer, John L. Cooper recently came out with a book called Awake & Alive to Truth, which is a quick but powerful read. In the first chapter, called “Pre-Show,” he relates a story from when the band was on the cusp of success in the rock world.
A bigwig agent had called John over at an after-show party, where Skillet had opened. He said,
“You guys are hot right now, and everybody knows it. You’ve got the songs. You’ve got the sound. You’ve got the look … in fact your WHOLE BAND has the look. You’ve got the show. You’ve got this uber positivity, and rock radio is starting to look for positivity. Bands are trying to fake it, but you already have it. You’ve got the personality. You’ve got the spiritual thing going, and rock fans are starting to crave that too! This is your moment and it’s time to strike.”
This was sounding good. But then he said,
“Bro, I’m just gonna say it, ‘cause you need to hear it. Skillet could be the biggest rock band in the world. But dude, you’ve got to stp talking about Jesus.” …
He went on,
“The spiritual thing, the positive thing, that’s really powerful stuff. But the Jesus stuff hurts your brand. I’m just telling you bro.”
That’s the challenge. Be positive, even spiritual, but don’t talk about Jesus. You can make a positive impact through caring for others, living an upright life, doing the right thing, being a pillar in the community, without talking about Jesus. Talking about Jesus can make things awkward. There’s always that person that has to throw Jesus into casual conversation … sheesh. Or that person at work who makes things awkward with the constant Jesus talk. Why do that? It just makes people uncomfortable. You know what I’m talking about. The temptation is always there. Talk wholesome and positive, but why make it awkward with Jesus talk? It’s safer to not mention the name of Jesus. It hurts your brand.
But, my friends, such reasoning is a lie. Avoiding the name of Jesus is to deny the name of Jesus. And it becomes habit, relegating the name of Jesus to be uttered only in church and in curses. Embracing such a lie is to embrace loosey-goosey Christianity, giving a semblance of spirituality and power but divesting your life and witness of the true power of Christ.
How so? Why is it important to speak about Jesus? Why is it important to be bold about Jesus? Well, our passage today gives us an idea. In Jesus, refusing to deny his name while striving to keep his Word, those with little power find themselves upheld by infinite power, given entrance to his eternal, unshakeable Kingdom, secured by his protection, and wrapped up in his true and holy identity. Whereas, downplaying the name of Jesus is to embrace a lie and the unholy—to not go through the open door.
You have probably heard that the name “Philadelphia” means the city of brotherly love. The origin of this name comes from its founding, which was by either Eumenes II (king of Pergamum from 197-159 B.C.) or his brother, Attalus II (who reigned from 159-138). Attalus II was nicknamed “Philadelphus” due to his proved devotion, loyalty, and love for his brother, Eumenes. So, when the city was founded, it received Attalus’ honorific. Thus, Philadelphia.
Much later, in A.D. 17 (about fifty years prior to the writing of Revelation), Philadelphia suffered, along with Sardis, the devastation of a great earthquake. Emperor Tiberius then helped them recover, so the people honored Tiberius by renaming the city Neocaesarea (although they dropped the name “about A.D. 42-50”). But, as a result of the earthquake, and the repeated tremors that followed, the people were a bit shellshocked. Most of the city actually moved out of the city for a good period of time, living out in the fields for safety. And as William Ramsay comments, “People lived amid ever threatening danger, in dread always of a new disaster; and the habit of going out to the open country had probably not disappeared when the Seven Letters were written.” Despite the fallout from the earthquake, the city was prosperous, known for its vineyards and wines, and was also called “the gateway to the east,” as it sat on an important east-west road to and from Aegean Sea.