Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sermon--Jesus Walks Among the Hurting, Revelation 2:8-11--Smyrna

Last week we looked at the letter written to the city of Ephesus—the opening line lets us know that he holds the seven stars in His right hand and that He “walks among the seven golden lampstands” which are the churches. He walks among His churches. He sees their strengths, He sees their faults, He knows the cure. This week we’re looking at the second letter to the city of Smyrna

Smyrna literally meant ¡§myrrh¡¨ - a fine perfume and this was quite fitting for Smyrna which was a wealthy and beautiful city. It was destroyed and then rebuilt by Rome and was one of the few planned out cities in Asia Minor. It was a modern and architecturally asthetic city. It had an excellent harbour, lavish temples, a famous stadium and one of the largest public theatres in Asia Minor. It still exists as Izmir, Turkey

Though it was a beautiful city, it was also a pagan city with worship of many of the gods of the Roman and Greek pantheon including Zeus, Hermes, Apollo, Dionysius, Mercury. In addition to this, it was a staunch ally of Rome and was one of the first Asian cities to require its citizens to worship the emperor..

Smyrna was also a center of the emperor worship, having won the privilege from the Roman Senate in A.D. 23 (over eleven other cities) of building the first temple in honor of Tiberius. Under Domitian (A.D. 81-96) emperor worship became compulsory for every Roman citizen on threat of death. Once a year a citizen had to burn incense on the altar to the godhead of Caesar, after which he was issued a certificate.

Such an act was probably considered more as an expression of political loyalty than religious worship, and all a citizen had to do was burn a pinch of incense and say, "Caesar is Lord [kyrios]." To refuse this led to persecution or even death

Yet most Christians refused to do this

READ 2:8-11

1. Jesus Walks Among the Churches With Authority

a. If you were to walk into a day-care and see all the toilet paper strewn across the room, all the kids running wild, paint on the floor, on the wall, in their hair, toys that were never intended to travel through the air imbedded in the ceiling tiles—our first thought is to cry out—“Who’s in charge here???”

b. When we see chaos, when we see disorder, when we see pain, suffering, hardship, calamity in the world around us… most of us on some level are going to ask a similar question—“who’s in charge here? Whoever it is, is not doing their job very well. Where are you God and why aren’t you doing anything about this? How could you let this happen?” It’s hard not to watch TV and not wonder—what’s going on? We ask these mostly out of emotion, mostly because our innate sense of right and wrong is being violated. One of the classic attacks on Christianity is based on the problem of evil, of pain, or hardship and suffering. And the fundamental feeling associated in asking the question is the sense that the world is out of control.

c. You and I walk around, and it doesn’t take us long to figure out that the world does not revolve around me or you. The universe does not bow to my whim. I know that I am not in control of the universe. And it doesn’t take me long to figure out that you’re not either. So Who is in Control?

d. To a church that is hurting and underground, a Church that is suffering in the midst of prosperity—Jesus has a message: “I walk among you in Full and Complete Control despite your perceptions to the contrary.”

e. First and Last—much like the Alpha & Omega, the Beginning and the End. ISA 44:6 "This is what the LORD says--Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.

f. First—prime, most important. Last—the rearguard, the last one you see. Jesus Starts the Parade & He finishes the Parade.

g. First & Last--the one they belong to is the Lord of history and the Creator. He is in control regardless of appearances of evil—nothing surprises Him, nothing catches Him off guard, nothing is unexpected. He is First, the Almighty Creator of Heavens and the Earth—Jesus is the Last—the Finisher of our Faith. Jesus has Authority

h. Over Suffering and Pain—even the Pain of Death—Jesus experienced Death Firsthand—not because someone told Him about their experience, He didn’t read about death in a book, didn’t study to become an undertaker—He died—

i. death is not an academic issue, nor a philosophic wondering—it is very real in the life of Jesus—He knows just how devastating death can be—he’s lost friends like Lazarus, He probably lost His earthly father, Joseph, as a young boy or teenager—and if that’s not enough, Jesus died and came back to life. He knows what He’s talking about when it comes to the subject of death. But Jesus not wring His handsover pain and suffering, He has Authority over Death, over pain and suffering because He experienced them all

j. Hebrews 2:10 lets us know that the Author of Our Salvation was made perfect by or through what He suffered. To a church that is seeing only chaos and hardship and suffering, this reminder is a welcome event. Jesus walks among us and is still fully and completely in Control—He has not lost His Authority in any way.

2. Jesus Walks Among the Church With Awareness—vs. 9-10

a. I Know—Jesus is fully aware, completely informed—not one moment has escaped His notice. This reminds me of Exodus 3:7-8—“The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians”

b. Aware of Afflictions They Faced Persecution – The word “Tribulation” literally means “pressure.” It is the word that was used in that day to refer to crushing an object under the weight of heavy stones. This church was paying a heavy price for their allegiance to Jesus.

c. Aware of Poverty— They Faced Poverty – The word means “absolute destitution.” They had none of the world’s goods because of their relationship with Jesus. They were denied jobs. Yet every day they had to pass ornate pagan temples, Smyrna was a wealthy city. Imagine How Satan mocked them telling them that if they would renounce Jesus that they could prosper.

d. The Good Life and Wealth are not signs of spiritual blessing or God’s approval—you can be rich in His eyes even when you have nothing.

e. In fact, having wealth often makes us less mindful or less dependent on Him, therefore our spirit wanes. You can have everything and be spiritually poor and starving. But no matter what or how much you have, Paul teaches us to be content in any and all situations.

f. Aware of Slander and its True Source—all the horrible lies about Christians being spread around town, all those accusations of Sedition, Idolatry, Cannibalism—Jesus heard it all, even when they were disguised as prayers and requests to protect His holiness and doctrinal purity. Jesus has the Authority to sift through the Truth from the False. You never have to worry about Jesus believing the statement of those who speak badly of Christ. You never have to accept the pronouncements from those who don’t really belong to Christ giving all the reasons and excuses why God is angry with you, why God is punishing you, why you really do deserve to not have any wealth—those are lies that He does not acknowledge—and if you are suffering or struggling today and enduring hardship—know that Jesus is Aware, know that He knows the Truth and doesn’t believe what we say, but upon His personal knowledge. He will always listen to get your side of the story,

g. It’s because He knows the Voice of Truth, because He knows His sheep and because He knows the Author of Lies. Even when it’s someone who’s supposed to be a brother or sister, someone who should be their allies and friends—I for one am very glad and thankful that Jesus does not judge me based upon what others have or are saying about me. I’m glad He knows me will enough to consider what is true.

h. Jesus also has an Awareness of Future Difficulty—vs. 10—they are about to suffer—there is no promise to remove it, there is no promise to make it go away, there is no promise to keep everything perfect and prevent the pain. But wait, I thought this was Jesus, who was in Control and had Authority?—

i. It is and He is—so this is proof to me that we should never interpret hardship or difficulty as God is not in control He’s already seen it, He knows it’s coming—and He is preparing, He is encouraging you and me to face it.

3. Jesus Walks Among His Church with Encouragement and a Promise--

a. Do not be afraid—He is walking with us—Where 2 or 3 are gathered in His name—He is there with them. So when the Church is persecuted, He is persecuted. Do not be Afraid—I am with you even though you walk through the Valley of the shadow of Death.

b. Jesus is not the EASY BUTTON, or a Lucky Rabbits Foot. He is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” Card—but with Him at our side, we don’t have to be afraid—because He’s been there.

c. He knows what it’s like to suffer, He knows what it’s like to die. He was tempted in every way to curse God, but He did not sin—not even once. We don’t have to be afraid even in the face of suffering and persecution b/c Jesus has already proven by rising from the dead that He is Victorious! Say it with me—He is Victorious..

d. The Victory is the Most Real Thing in the Universe—the Victory of Jesus Christ is Ultimate and Permanent Reality—What we are seeing and feeling and enduring now… It’s Only Temporary—10 days—a defined period of time—it has a beginning and it has an ending and Jesus knows exactly when that is.

e. You may be thrown in prison because of your faith in Christ. In their day, refusing to worship the Emperor, refusing to call the Emperor Lord, refusing to worship the pagan deities was a Crime!

f. Polycarp—bishop of Smyrna was martyred because he refused to call Caesar, Lord in 156 AD. Polycarp was burned alive at the age of eighty-six as the "twelfth martyr in Smyrna" (IDB, 4:393). His words have echoed through the ages: "Eighty-six years have I served Christ, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 4.15.25).

g. 1 Peter 4:16-- However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name

h. The devil wants to see if your faith is real, he wants to see if your faith is genuine—he doesn’t believe that it is. He cannot understand how you and I can hold so tightly to faith in a world that is chaotic. Satan doubts your faith—so he wants to test it—your suffering may Only be a Test—but where Satan doubts whether your faith is Real, Jesus has no doubts. Jesus wants to see us Pass the test and flourish .

i. He encourages us to be faithful--Be Faithful with your whole life—even to the point of death—because for you to die following the One who has conquered death, is not defeat or a sign of God’s judgment—it is a sign of His Promise. I love the line used in Braveheart—“they may take our lives, but they will never take Our Freedom!” There is no truth to that statement apart from Christ—it is only true in the Kingdom of God, it is only true—not in the name of Scotland, not in the name of England, not in the name of the USA—it is only true in the name of the One who Died and came to life again—only true in the Person of Jesus Christ.

j. He was faithful to the point of death—He didn’t say “do as I say, not as I do”—Jesus was faithful to the plan and purpose of the Father, to the point of death—and b/c of that, He was Victorious. Be Faithful to the point of death b/c He was faithful to the point of death.

k. Jesus walks among us also with Awareness of Future Reward--Jesus will give you the Crown of Life—crown of Victory, the same victory over death that He experiences, the same resurrection life that He experiences, the same closeness to God He experiences—we will have the crown of Victory because He was willing to wear the Crown of Thorns!

l. Jesus walks among us and knows that Justice has not been forgotten

m. Jesus walks among us and knows that Our Life will be better, will be rewarded

n. At this point we have not suffered to the point of death or the spilling of our blood. It’s been generations since we have seen this type of persecution in America—but I hope you realize that we are the exception—even in today’s world. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering around the world today in much the same fashion as those in Smyrna—and let me point out something if you haven’t noticed it already—There is no Condemnation for this church—there is no rebuke—there is no “I hold this against you” like last week to the Church at Ephesus that had more prosperity, that had more deeds. They had forgotten their first love in the midst of doing a lot of good things. These at Smyrna had their love for Christ and nothing else. Nothing else would have brought them through, nothing else but love would have kept them faithful.

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