The Key of the Kingdom of God
The Key of the Kingdom of God
Revelation 3:7-13 gives us insight and direction for doing the Work of God in these extraordinary times.
[Victor Kubik] I'd like you to follow with me in Revelation 3. I would like to read some words that have been very, very meaningful to me here in the last few weeks because it describes where we're at. And I would like to share them with you. One thing that's impressive about these words is that they are… If you have a red-letter Bible that has the words of Jesus Christ in red. These are words that are in red font. Even though this is something which was dictated to John, these are words that Jesus Christ Himself dictated to the apostle John, as he wrote the Revelation, the book of Revelation.
Verse 7 of chapter 3 of Revelation, "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David.”’" This is Jesus Christ speaking. And He is the one who obviously here, He's one who is holy, and true, and has the key of David. "He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens. I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, you have kept My word and have not denied My name. Indeed, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie— indeed I will make… those of the synagogue of Satan… I will make them come into worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because" verse 10, "you have kept My command to persevere, I will also keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out no more… I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. I will write on him My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
I've been intrigued by these words because I've heard these words in the Church for the past 50 years plus. It talks about a time when Jesus Christ will come quickly. It talks about a time when the whole world will be overcome with tribulation, an hour of trial that will come. And yet, what we have here is a message that enables a mission of the Church, a mission of the Kingdom, no matter what time period we live in. And it's interesting that this mission goes back to King David, which is very interesting. These are words of encouragement to people who have been beaten down, who live in a time that we live in right now, as it was so well brought out in the sermonette. Right now, we don't know what to believe. We don't even know where to find the proper information. I find my best research is turning the television off because I don't know what to believe, except the Bible.
It used to be that when government-controlled information, nobody knew what was going on. And now when information is all over the place, we don't know what's going on. The words in this passage are words of prophecy. These are words of protection. Also, they speak about hanging on to what you have, as though it's something that may be ripped away from you, it may be taken away or you may lose it. Hang on to what you have so that no man take your crown. I feel that this message is particularly important right now. What is the key of David? These words are quoted directly from Isaiah 22:22 Isaiah 22:22And the key of the house of David will I lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
American King James Version×, word for word.
Isaiah 22:22 Isaiah 22:22And the key of the house of David will I lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
American King James Version×, "The key of the house of David will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open." David was in existence 1,000 years before this. These words were recorded in Hezekiah's time, 300 years later in Jerusalem. What do they have to do with our time now? But with the key, you can go in and out of locked doors, a key and it's authority control. If you have a key to any rooms here, any doors here, you can have the authority to walk through. I have a master key to this building, I can walk through any door here in this. I have authority to walk through any door in this building. Jesus Christ is the one who has a key of David who walks through anything move forward in history. He has control over David's domain, the kingdom of Israel. And we'll find out just exactly how great that kingdom is.
Christ shows that He is a fulfillment of a covenant that He made in David's time, that's repeated in three different places. It's called the Davidic Covenant. And it's one that established David's dynasty over Israel, and then on to Christ, New Jerusalem, and made Him Lord Jesus, Lord of the Kingdom of God. That's the progression of where it started. It's started with David in Israel and it went on through the dynasty of the kings. The Davidic Covenant refers to promises that were made to David in 2 Samuel 7. It's important for us to read this, and I'd like you to please turn to 2 Samuel 7 because this is one of the covenants of the Old Testament, but it's a covenant made between God and David, through which God promises David and Israel, that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would come through the lineage of David and the tribe of Judah, and would establish a kingdom that would last forever.
The Davidic Covenant is unconditional because God does not place any conditions of obedience upon His fulfillment, similar to the Abrahamic Covenant. He said, "This is where it will be and this is the way it's going to end up, no matter what the people do." But let's read in 2 Samuel 7, starting with verse 4. "That night the word of the Lord came to Nathan…” he was a prophet that was connected with David, saying, "Go and tell My servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord… Now, therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: "I took you from the sheepfold, from following the sheep…”’” He wasn't some great person. In fact, among the brothers that were considered to be the replacement for King Saul, he was not even considered. He was the one in the backlot taking care of the sheep. He was the humblest of all, didn't even think of himself to be really in the running to be king. "I've asked you to be the ruler over My people, over Israel. And I have been with you, wherever you have gone…” this is, of course, Nathan speaking to David now into his reign. "And I've cut off all your enemies from before you, and have made you a great name, like the name of the great men who are on the earth." And here's where the covenant comes in verse 12. "When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He's one who will build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever."
David did not build a house, it was his son Solomon who did. "I will be his Father, he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with a rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul,” God stripped away Saul from having any lineage and gave it to David and his family forever. Verse 16, "And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. And your throne shall be established forever.”
The same promise is repeated in 2 Chronicles 6:16 2 Chronicles 6:16Now therefore, O LORD God of Israel, keep with your servant David my father that which you have promised him, saying, There shall not fail you a man in my sight to sit on the throne of Israel; yet so that your children take heed to their way to walk in my law, as you have walked before me.
American King James Version×, where it reads, "You shall not fail to have a man to sit before Me on the throne of Israel." And also in 1 Chronicles 17:11 1 Chronicles 17:11And it shall come to pass, when your days be expired that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will raise up your seed after you, which shall be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom.
American King James Version×, the same thought is repeated. The kingdom of God is at the disposal of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has this key of David, and He is the one who can shut and open as He pleases. If He shuts, no man can open. If He opens, no man can shut. His determinations all stand fast and none can reverse them. But there is a personal message that's here that we read. But there's also a broader message to the Philadelphians at a time when Christ would be returning quickly. Christ has not yet returned to this earth, but He is returning quickly and in a time of great distress.
Verse 8, this is back to Revelation 3, "I know your works. See, I've set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have little strength,” and I feel like this describes us better than almost anything else, a description of just how great and marvelous we are. We're little. We're nothing. "But you have kept My word, and have not denied My name." But still, in spite of this, of the fact that we are small, there still is a message. There still is a work for us to do. It's not just a personal message of salvation, of walking through the door that Christ opens, but it's also an opportunity and one of our mission. The Church's mission is to preach the gospel to the entire world. That's our reason for existence. And we're very familiar with that. We have used the term an open door as an opportunity and also an enhanced opportunity where a path has been prepared for us. So many times in the past, we've talked about how God has opened doors for the Church.
Probably one that was most dramatic in my history, in my ministry has been when we went on radio. When we went on radio when hardly anybody was on radio, the bands were not crowded, and AM radio reached around the world. We were on hundreds of radio stations. We had a tremendous response. To me, we spoke of that as being a great open door. It certainly was one where we had a lot of response and the growth of churches. But that door, that key still can open other doors. Matthew 28, Jesus Christ when speaking to His disciples, among the last words that were said to them was the fact that He was to open doors. Matthew 28:18 Matthew 28:18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.
American King James Version×, Jesus came and spoke to them saying, "All authority…" Why does He have all authority? Because He has the key. "Has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
The covenant that began with David, but he would make David the beginning of a dynasty that would last forever and end up with Jesus Christ" is the continuation right here. "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." We repeat this. We read this, and yet, we're small. And yet we have the traumas that we do. We have a very small group. We have a very small church. And with this hour of trial has come upon the earth, we can become discouraged. And yet God says that He will encourage us, do not become disheartened at it. They were two periods in the Christian era if you want to put it this way, that's the time from after Jesus ascended to heaven and from the time that He will return to this earth. There were two periods of great dramatic work being done.
I'd like to just quickly go through them. I'd like to start with the last one, Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×. Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×, speaks about a time when the gospel will go into all the world. Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×, "He who endures to the end shall be saved." It's interesting, that endurance and going through a time of trial is oftentimes connected with doing the work. Verse 14, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world,” that before Jesus Christ returns, it'll “be preached into all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." And these are words that we hear often, but the question arises is that, is the gospel being preached into the world? Are we doing it? You know, I'm not disheartened at all and neither do I believe that all of a sudden, just out of the blue, we're going to have a million responses in a couple of weeks to what we do and our churches will magnificently grow. It talks about the gospel being preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. It won't be necessarily a message of the building of churches, the establishment of Community Church.
Who are these witnesses? Well, we've spoken often about the two witnesses. In fact, the word witness, here we have witness, that just before the kingdoms of this world are handed over to Jesus Christ. Here's what happens in chapter 11 of the book of Revelation. "I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” There'll be two witnesses and they will prophesy to the whole world for three-and-a-half years, 1,260 days, 42 months. There'll be known around the world. They'll perform miracles. They'll obviously a successful ministry and they ultimately will be killed. So they are human because they are killed. They are not angelic or some type of spirit.
They're human beings and they're killed within are resurrected. But this happens just before the kingdoms of the world are handed over to the Kingdom of God. Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
American King James Version×. This is continuing in the chapter here where we speak about the two witnesses. "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ,’” finally, this key of David hands over all the power to Jesus Christ, who is King of King and Lord of Lords, “‘…and He shall reign forever and ever!’ And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell down and worshipped God." And this is a great ministry and a great witness. This is how it all will end. That's how the end of the Christian era will be as Jesus Christ comes to rule as King of Kings.
But also when the Church began on the day of Pentecost, the Church had an auspicious start after Christ's ascension to heaven. It was dramatic. It was unlike anything that, you know, we've seen since. Peter's Pentecost sermon and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the second chapter of the book of Acts. His bold message of repentance led to 3,000 people being baptized. We often look to these examples as, "Oh, if we could just have this type of growth, if we could have this type of dynamic in the Church right now."
Acts 2:36 Acts 2:36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made the same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
American King James Version×. And this is the bold preaching of the apostle Peter. And there were a number of very, very powerful sermons that were delivered at the very beginning of this era. "Therefore," verse 36, “'let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ And the people who were assembled and when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter, and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’"
And Peter's message was one of “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the Holy Spirit.” The power of God, “For the promise is made to you and your children, and all who are afar off,” in a church group. And with other words, He testified and exhorted them. That wasn't the only thing He said in the sermon. He said, "Be saved from this perverse generation." That's part of the message that we teach. And we're becoming stronger and stronger about a message of repentance to this world, and to be saved from this perverse generation, which I think that we write about more and more and more. We cannot hide from that message. We cannot hide from showing my people their sins.
“Then those who gladly received his word,” there were people who accepted that and said, "Yes, we live in a very, very terrible society." And that day, about 3,000 people were baptized. In a few days, I'm not sure exactly when it was, but there was another incident, where Peter and John together were working, and speaking, and talking about repentance. The story of the lame man in Acts 3, who was healed. And the message was similar to the one that was given on the Pentecost in verse 17 of chapter 3. "Yet now, brethren, I know that you did in ignorance, as you did your rulers, but those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so at the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom the heavens must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His prophets.”
Well, Peter and John were arrested. They were put into prison overnight, but the church grew by another 2,000 as a result. They were questioned by what power and by what name do you do this work? This Sunday, we are going to be faced very squarely, all of us in the church in the leadership by what power do you do this? Who do you represent? And we will have to stand up for our beliefs. We won't be able to hide. We will have to be like Peter and John were in the examples that we're speaking about here and the fourth chapter of the book of Acts. By what power or by what name have you done this?
Verse 13 of chapter 4, "When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, who they perceived as being uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus." The Church is taking on some body here. Five thousand people have come to repentance and to baptism.
In verse 23, after being let go from prison because he couldn't be kept, "They being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the priests and elders had said to them.” They were threatened. They were told not to speak. “So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said,” and this is the prayer that they prayed, and a prayer that we should pray also, about asking God to give us not only the words but the courage and the boldness. "Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David has said: 'Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things?’" This is quoting from Psalm 2, “'The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant Your servants that with all boldness they may speak."
Not only that but have the ability to be able to stand up and finish the sermon. I feel like we have great work yet to be done, to be spoken with this kind of courage and boldness. Part of our theme for the General Conference of Elders this year was courage. And we spoke about that, “…that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, that with signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus." Now here's what happened. “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled,” these are the Christian, these are among the 5,000s, of course, this is by the leadership group here. “The place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit," the place was shaken.
There were so many things that were happening in those days of the early church. People were able to understand people in different languages. They were able to be able to speak boldly where they had been cowardly before. And then the result was “and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” And that boldness came from the Holy Spirit of God. It was a penetrating, powerful message delivered by plain men. We had not come from the powerful seminaries of this world. Although we have studied the Word of God. We have wanted to understand fully what the Word of God is all about. We want to be as accurate as possible. But we have very few people among us really, that are doctorates in divinity. Maybe we should be thankful for that. This message was approved by God.
It was a message about Christ, about His Kingdom. It was about His coming, about His life, His death, His resurrection, and about the Kingdom of God. It was a powerful message that began to spread from Jerusalem, spread into Asia Minor, and ultimately into Europe and around the world. It's a powerful message only made possible by the Holy Spirit of God. And that's the way that we will be able to move forward, not by any person who is an excellent and dynamic speaker of himself, but only as he is motivated by God and as he is empowered by God. We have a very, very important job we have to do with the years that we have. God will protect us in the hour of trial.
And as it's said back in Revelation 3:10 Revelation 3:10Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come on all the world, to try them that dwell on the earth.
American King James Version×, "Because you have kept My command to persevere,” it can be difficult at times to persevere. And we have seen so many people who have quit. We have seen so many people that have stepped aside. We have seen so many people that gave up. But one of the qualifications, one of the qualities of the Church that is labeled is that Philadelphia has the mark of being ones who persevered, who didn't give up. And because of that, “I will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly!” Brethren, when I read these words and I've read them so many times before, I've read them over and over again, I've been reading them for 50 years, we are much more close to just exactly what is happening here. This is not trying to strike fear or undue concern. But we live in a time that is so unreal. Every week brings on new challenges, new regulations. What's going to happen in the next couple of years? We started off this year with the Beyond Today magazine with an article that we just wrote. I'm thinking this might be a good title. "The 2020s are here, are you ready?" You know, kind of just in a galloping way. We weren't. We were not ready at all.
Now that we've had months thinking about what's happened, how are we going to face the next six months? It won't be by saving food. It won't be by storing gold. It'll be on total reliance on Jesus Christ, who will protect us from the hour of trial, not to become discouraged and distraught. "Behold, I come quickly!” in verse 11 of Revelation 3, but the remainder of the verse is what I want to speak about for the rest of the time that I have. "Hold fast to what you have, that no one take your crown." I'm glad that that was one of the hymns that was sung at the beginning of the service today. "Hold fast to what you have, that no one takes your crown." I have seen people's crowns stolen. I have seen people replace a false crown on top of a… or put an appearing better crown on a person's head and people have lost their crown of life. Now, however, God judges them and works with them, that's between them and God. But we must never forget what we have learned and acquired.
I have been in the Church at its greatest. When I was working in Pasadena, California, that was a record… The week I started working there was a record week or record month for church attendance. We had more than 140,000 people for the Feast of Tabernacles. It looked like we were clearly sailing to just meet even more and more marvelous things, but who would have thought that type of thing would have happened? And people have gotten discouraged because they've been talked out of what they believed. People weren't prepared to answer questions themselves, those things that we believe at one time that we have come to internalize. And I'm going to ask you, how did you come to believe what you did? Did you just kind of grow into it, kind of accept it, or was there a point in your life, when you said, "This makes sense?" You saw what the Bible said. You saw what was being practiced. You saw the religious confusion around.
You saw clearly what the Bible said and you made that choice. It was a choice that oftentimes involved changing occupations, leaving your friends. Those are things that happened to me. It was a very tough decision to make, but I know that I had to make it. And I go back and think of what I had to do to leave, then I see people that have just kind of grown into it and haven't thought very much. And then all of a sudden, there's some type of chaos that takes place, or somebody has a better argument, or somebody kind of confuses people. People say, "I don't want to think." Smart people, capable people have left in droves. But this church, that is, the Philadelphia Church is a small group, people who have endured trial, people who are to holdfast to what they have so that no one will take their crown, take what they have duly, I wouldn't say earned but has been given to them by God. It's very, very easy to forget what we have learned. One of the messages for the Bible, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, is stories and accounts of how people, even whole nations, even whole dynasties of Kings even have adopted a certain way of belief. And then after a few years, they get cold. They forget what they had believed. We must never forget what we have learned.
The apostle John was the last surviving eyewitness of Jesus Christ. Probably was close to 100 years old when he wrote his five books. He wrote them in the 90s and he was probably in his 90s. He wrote the book of Revelation on the Island of Patmos. And what he tried to do in his books, like the apostle John, he wrote things oftentimes that others did not include to make sure that these recollections of what Jesus Christ did in his personal relationship with Him could be recorded.
And so he included things like the foot-washing service, which the other three synoptic Gospels do not include. But he recorded his personal recollections with Jesus Christ. And these were things that went back 60 years. If you recorded them and wrote them down in the 90s, it would have been about 60 years previous to that. But one thing and one phrase that he uses a dozen times in the three gospels, John, 1, 2, and 3, is “from the beginning,” from the beginning. He was impressing and trying to impress upon those who would read, including us, what he saw and what was the truth. Because shortly after the crisis here on the earth, there were all types of spurious beliefs that sprung up. Gnosticism, for example, was one of them. And that's what he is fighting in the books that he wrote.
1 John 1:1 1 John 1:1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
American King James Version×, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, we have seen with our eyes,” he was talking about Jesus Christ. He was talking about having heard Him, as having seen Him with his eyes. And he says, "We handled Him with our hands.” He was a human. He was God, “concerning the Word of life” and he's the one who started the Gospel of John was, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh. And we touched it. We handled it. We knew exactly what we're talking about. Don't let anybody tell you that he was an apparition or that he was created or that anything. He was God. He was there from the very beginning.” He says that from the very get-go. And that has been challenged, even in our fellowship about Jesus Christ and His origins. And people have left. "Life was manifested," verse 2, "and we have seen and bear witness and declare to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” Jesus Christ was a life-giver. He was sent by God the Father. He and Jesus had a compact. That was so well brought up by Bill Bradford in a sermon last year. And he made that clear to us.
1 John 2:7 1 John 2:7Brothers, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you have heard from the beginning.
American King James Version×, "Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have heard from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning.” He just goes back to the beginning, goes back to his personal recollection, his personal eyewitness of Jesus Christ. "Again, a new commandment I write to you, which is thing is true in Him… because the darkness is passing away ,and the true light is already shining."
Okay, then, 1 John, 2:24, "Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning." You know, even in His ministry it says, “Do you remember the things I've talked to you about? Don't you remember what I preached, what I wrote, and what I confessed as far as what Jesus Christ was and what His teachings was?” “Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us— eternal life." Verse 26 of 1 John 2 is actually a statement giving the purpose of why he wrote what he did. That includes everything that he wrote. "These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you.” Who try to fool you, who try to believe something different.
2 John 1:5 2 John 1:5And now I beseech you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
American King James Version×, "Now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which you have had from the beginning: that we love one another… This is a commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it." One of the things that we do in our Pastoral Development program, at first, I didn't think it would be that interesting, but we have talked to our new ministerial trainees and we had one evening set apart where we had a dinner.
And then we would gather and talk about having some of the people who've been around a long time, some of our senior pastors to talk about how United Church of God got started. And at first, I thought, "Oh, you know, here we're going to talk about some negative things and, you know, the conversation will maybe not end up very well." But that has been very, very popular because we've talked about how people have stayed with the faith, how people have remained faithful in spite of people leaving, in spite of families being torn apart, as far as people going back to their old churches. And one shocking statistic is how many people have become atheists after having been baptized. That is horrible. That is very painful to me when I hear of my peers back in college, having become atheists, not believing anything anymore.
Believe me, there is a spirit world that is working against us to try to take us off track. And it's not just for us that we're concerned. It's not just for us to abide in the truth for our own salvation, but it's for doing the work of God and passing this on to our children and laying the track for the future of the Church. So, we have found that this exercise of going back through the past, talking about our origins, talking about how we came to believe what we did and what we had to go through in our minds in the changes that we've had to make in our thinking has been very, very fruitful, encouraging, and very helpful. And we plan and hope to be able to do that more. I have been having conversations with some of our senior ministers. And the conversation is very, very frank. The conversation is this, that we don't know how long we'll be around yet.
You know, we don't know how many years we have. We should be like the apostle John, and to be able to talk about the things that we believe from the beginning, and why we believe them, and be able to have a discussion, being able to engage the people who are newer in the faith. That includes our newer ministers. Those include those who want to become part of the ministry or who are being called into the ministry, to be able to discuss things as they were, from the beginning, as the apostle John wrote.
I was talking to a number of senior pastors this past week, one around, one overseas, and one here. They would love to be able to share their thoughts, to be able to share their experiences about how they came to this. And we will be doing this in our developing continuing ministerial training.
One thing that from the very outset, even going back to the time when God was working with ancient Israel, and they came out of Egypt, and it's interesting that in Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments are given, very powerfully demonstrated, inscribed on stone. And then, all of a sudden, we see at the very end, the final book, the book of Deuteronomy, which is a repetition of the law, the same Ten Commandments are repeated. And I've always asked myself, you know, why do they have to be repeated? But they were repeated 40 years later. What do people remember even about some very, very basics and some bedrock teachings?
In the book of Deuteronomy, one of the purposes of that book itself is brought out in chapter 8 verse 1. "Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go into possess the land in which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would be keeping His commandments or not." But we really have not too much evidence, the wanderings of Israelites in the Sinai, as to how well they were observing the Holy Days, how well they were observing all the Commandments. We don't really have too much record, but I suspect that they didn't take very much for them to drift away. And God brought those Commandments back to them. What do you remember from 40 years ago? What do you remember from 1980? Now, if things aren't talked about and discussed, and made real, how they were from the beginning, how much do you remember?
Maybe some of the people there, some of the people said, "You know, grandpa had the story about going through the Red Sea. It was a really exciting story." You know, it's almost like a fairy tale, that people came to the Red Sea and the Egyptians were drowned, and the kids were like, "Oh, that's a great story." But then, people forget, even very, very well-known things that are inscribed and it doesn't make that much impact on them. My parents used to talk to me about World War II, about what they went through, about the horrible things that they went through. You know, we didn't even want to hear about it. And really, I've had to piece together stories about my parents, and some of my siblings, and some of my relatives don't even want to know about what happened. It was so terrible that it happened, that they don't even want to know these things. Human beings have an amazing ability to forget and just let those things be fizzled down to nothing.
One of the most amazing books in the Bible is an ugly story, one after another is the book of Judges. It's a story of one evil thing after another. The people of Israel were conquered by neighboring tribes. And they cry out to God and say, "God, forgive us our sins. You know, we have followed after idols." And they start being good for a while. Eighteen years, 20 years go by 40 years go by, and they forget, and they go back to some of the pagan practices of the nations around them. People forget.
We as a nation are drifting very, very dangerously. I don't think we realize just how dangerously, psychologically, and spiritually our nation is drifting. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, he's the one who had a great deal to say about a legal decision affirming religious freedoms in 1952. And here's what he wrote as part of his brief. "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." That was when 90% of the people in this country identified with a Supreme Being, 90%. It could have been our, it could have been another Supreme Being but their Supreme Being that they had identified with.
Now that percentage is 60% and further declining. It's worse in Europe, much worse in Europe. Italy is the most religious country in Europe, where 46% of the people presuppose a Supreme Being. And Sweden comes in at the very end at 14%. And the rest of the people, they have no thought. They're areligious. They're amoral, not immoral. They say they're just amoral. They just don't care. That's not important to them. And one statement that William O. Douglas made that I think that should be one that is a warning to us. He says, "As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression." In both instances, there is a twilight where everything seems unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we must all be most aware of change in the air, however slight, less we become unwittingly victims of darkness. So as we slide and as we come to a twilight of darkness, and we get used to it, it's a very dangerous position to be in. So many people have turned into darkness, little by little by little with the lights have gone out.
In the New Testament, the church also went through periods of forgetting, including the church of Jerusalem. When you read Acts 2, you see a city on fire. You see a church that has grown to 5,000 people. You read about the Church in Jerusalem, that was where the apostles, several of them lived. James the apostle was there. And yet, when the apostle Paul wrote the book of Hebrews, which was to the people in Jerusalem, here's what he said in Hebrews 2:1 Hebrews 2:1Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.
American King James Version×. This is 30 some years after the start of the church in Acts 2. "Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard, lest we drift away." We can drift away. You know, when a person goes through a trauma and they've been drifting, a lot of times, they don't become stronger. They just throw their hands up in the air.
I feel that's very important for us to go back and to do those things that we had done at one time to re-examine and to re-evaluate, and to relive the way that we have come to accept and to have Jesus Christ abide in us, things that we may have forgotten. We are to give more earnest heat to the things we have heard. And also even about assembly in Hebrews 10, there was something about the church there that really wasn't quite right. "Let us hold first the confession of our hope, without wavering…” "not forsaking," verse 25, "the assembling of ourselves together, as a manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more, as you see the Day approaching."
I know right now, we're divided. I mean, we're divided but we're sort of scattered. Thankfully, we have Zoom, and we have telephones, and we have other means by which we can communicate with one another. But this is a time when we need to be sorting and lifting each other up, and even here at services with a short time that we have to exhort and to lift each other up. People need to encourage one another. The Church at Ephesus, so there were seven churches to which Jesus Christ spoke. The Philadelphia church was the sixth. But the first church was called the Ephesian church. In Revelation 2:2 Revelation 2:2I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear them which are evil: and you have tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars:
American King James Version×, "I know your works, your labor, your patience, that you cannot bear those who are evil." He talks about how they were very successful and a very, very turned down church. "Nevertheless," verse 4, "I have this against you, that you have left your first love." You've left your first love. You were excited about it. That was all that was on your mind. You were passionate about the truth of God. And he tells them, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent," this is a message to the church, message to all of us, "and do the first works,” do the things that you had done one time. This morning, as I was praying, I said, "God make me feel just stronger than ever."
As the years go by, things become rote, things become mechanical, things become automatic, yet we know them better, but do we have the same passion? Do we have the same feeling? Help me pray better. Help me care more. “Repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place— unless you repent.” Sometimes I wonder what happened 25 years ago in the Church. I felt like we had a strong church. I thought the beliefs that we had were the things we always believed. But all of a sudden, a number of sermons were given, and overnight, people started keeping Sunday. People started eating pork. People started keeping Christmas. They started doing things that were anathema. Just a short time before. What happened? What happened? Was there something psychologically that drifted away so far that when somebody came up with something that looked free, freedom, they threw their hands up in the air? People should have known better, I thought. Don't let that happen to us. That's the message to the church of Philadelphia to not to forsake… not to leave those things behind and stay on course. Holdfast to what you have. What do you have? Can you lose it? The answer is yes, you can. “Because I come quickly.”
What we want to do now with the church is during the COVID-19 crisis, we had a chance to do a lot of thinking. We've had a lot of changes, even things that we couldn't do. We couldn't do some training for ministers as we had done before, but there were some good things that really came out of what had taken place. But one thing, I was just very impressed with how Zoom technology has brought people together and how people can get together in small groups. And we're going to be using some of these techniques to mentor more of our people, more of our ministers. We want to refresh our ministers as well. We want to go through a campaign of rededicating ourselves to God and to do those first works once again. So, we're working on that right now.
One of the things that was brought out in a recent survey by members regarding their churches. We had a very, very comprehensive survey. And we have made those findings public about the Church. And there are several things that people commented about. The number one thing that people commented about was the quality of speaking, the quality of speaking. Believe me, we all have things to learn. It doesn't mean that it's bad, but people want to have something more motivating, something that explains our beliefs better. Some people who would like to have sharpening of what they had. They would like to see better examples. They'd like to see something that would be better prepared. But that's one thing that we want to do with our further ministerial training is to be able to have iron sharpening iron Zoom meetings, where we can evaluate one another. That means for all ministers. I've talked to a number of ministers that would really appreciate this.
Another thing would be is that how well can you explain our beliefs, our fundamental beliefs? Can somebody come here to me and explain about the Holy Spirit, how the Holy Spirit works, how the Holy Spirit is not a person? That is so basic in our church. And yet, could you point to a number of scriptures or would you be able to explain it to someone else? Would you be able to explain about God's law and about the importance of God's law? Would you be able to explain what is the church? All these things are very well-documented in our fundamental beliefs. When was the last time you got the booklet out on the fundamental beliefs of the United Church of God? Very easy to follow, very easy to study, to have these things brought up.
And, you know, there are some of our ministers that have gotten together in small groups and have actually talked to each other about some of the beliefs that we have, kind of working and iron sharpens iron and “I'd like to be able to do more of this to be able to explain things better.” At Ambassador Bible College, one thing that I found about students when asking them what they wanted to leave the year with, one of the things is that “I know what I believe but I can't explain it. And I'd like to be able to explain the things that I believe, that I know to be true. I'd like to be able to explain it.” We should all be able to do that. We all have Bibles. We all should be able to find a logic stream and explaining the beliefs that we have.
We want to be able to have an improvement in everything that we do, whether it's teachers, whether as pastors, as leaders, as Bible school teachers, we all want to do these things. We all want to sharpen each other up. This has been the crisis that we have gone through since February, March. It has been a wake-up call, not just to lament the fact that I wish it were just over with, but to say, "What can we do better? What can I do better as a pastor, as an elder, as a teacher, an administrator, as an operation manager? What can I do better? What can I do which I know I can improve in and how can I do that?"
Revelation does send a sobering message to all of us, a very sobering message. For one thing, God knows our works and our diligence. He knows our heart. One thing about the Philadelphia church is that they do have a good heart. They're not deceitful people. We've not denied His name. He also knows that we have very little strength. The Church of God, over the centuries, has had very little strength. In particular, the Philadelphia Church is not a big church. But He is setting an open door for us, a door that He is opening, an opportunity that He's given to us.
We should pray with kind of boldness that would shake the earth and say, "God, help me to be able to do my part in doing this work." We should have the entire church, preaching the entire gospel, the whole counsel of God to the whole world. That's our commission and that's our work to do. How that will be, I'm looking to God always to show us the way to do it. I would say that the people who are here, people in the United Church of God, I'm not a judge of others, have persevered. Anybody who's gone through the mind games, spiritual games that have taken place over the years, congratulations for staying faithful to God. We have persevered.
If we continue to do so, we'll be kept from the hour of trial. Some people are very, very frightened about trials, about persecution, about terrible things that will come upon the Church. Read Revelation 3, "I will keep you from the hour of trial that will come upon the entire world, and the whole world… I am coming quickly!” God says. Of course, that's been in there for hundreds of years. It has been always been there, "I'll come quickly." Well, if you died, He'd be there, you know. It's the next thing that did you would experience. Nonetheless, that Christ is very, very close to coming. And we live in a world with the second sticking towards Doomsday. It really is. It's one thing after another but this world cannot continue. You know, I have a terrible feeling is that frankly, for myself, I don't care. I've lived a full life. I'm happy with my life. I've lived an exciting life, not that I'm waiting to die or anything. I really want to continue on. But I'm really concerned about our children and our grandchildren because they have a physical life to live out here. What kind of world will they be facing? What kind of world will they be living in? So we have in the United Church of God many, many wonderful opportunities. I feel we have many, many wonderful things that we can accomplish.
I feel it's very important for us to go back and do the first things. And I would like to see every one of us make a project of studying the fundamental beliefs and studying some of our booklets. You know, some outsiders, some outside organizations who are Sabbath-keepers, have commented about our booklets, saying the Sabbath booklet is the best Sabbath treatise that they have ever seen. It is so clear and logical that they have taken it for themselves and, you know, ordered for themselves or even for that matter, I know they've been reprinting it, you know, for themselves overseas is the best treatise they've seen. The Kingdom of God, the green book, that is the best overall explanation about what the Kingdom of God is, the coming Kingdom of God. The most important thing on God's agenda for coming. It's what Jesus Christ will bring with Him, but He will become King of. The kingdoms of this world will become part of the kingdom of God. We in the church have tremendous material.
You know, what people say also, outside of us in other groups when they need to have something to study? “Go to the UCG website, they've got it. You know, they've got it.” If you want to know something about the wave sheaf, you know, and some small facts about it, look up a wave sheaf. I'm just giving you just one example because I actually had to do that a few years ago. And there was a great article on calculating and understanding the wave sheaf. Go to the United Church of God, they've got the booklets. We actually supply the educational aspect for so many other groups, through the things that we have on our website. And we need to appreciate those things that we have.
So certainly, I will conclude with the statement that, our number one job, first of all, is to preach the gospel into all the world. Number two, our job is to preserve the truth for our children. He who has an ear, let him hear.