Smyrna – Church Under Pressure

Revelation 2:8-11

According to one marketing expert, top slogan of 20th century: “Diamonds are forever”. We appreciate their beauty, recognize their value, but what does it take to make one? Scientists estimate: > 1/2 million pounds per sq. in. pressure and 2000 degrees F. So how does that relate to Christian life? We appreciate the beauty and value of Christian character but do our best to avoid heat and pressure God often uses to develop it. Pressure to conform, heat that is applied when God’s people don’t primary ingredients of suffering.

“indeed there is no temptation in the world that hath overthrown so many, as that which hath been backed and edged with fear: the love of preferments and honours hath slain its thousands, but fear of sufferings its ten thousands.” John Flavel, 1682, 7 years before Act of Toleration. Only 5 years prior John Bunyan imprisoned a second time, this time for preaching w/o a license, wrote first part of Pilgrim’s Progress. Time when Christian non-Conformists lost livelihood, liberty, even their lives.

Intolerance not limited to England, had its presence here in colonies. Roger Williams, founder of Providence RI, believed government interfering too deeply in affairs of the church in Salem MA. About to be arrested, fled south in early January 1636, found shelter with Wampanoag Indians until spring. Henry Dunster, first president Harvard, could not find paedobaptism in Bible; forced to resign (1654), evicted from house built at own expense on Harvard campus with family in October, went into exile near Plimoth colony.

Taking stand for what you believe to be true comes at a cost – at times small, things of little significance, perhaps not even noticed. At other times, standing for truth and refusing to violate conscience has greater consequences. Martin Luther on trial for heresy, knowing could be signing own death warrant, stated: “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” Local fellow toook similar stand against diversity pressure in high school, lost “friends”… for a time. Christians here in USA under increasing pressure to conform to cultural or political standard, contrary to God’s Word.

For church in Smyrna, path God had laid out for them lay through period of intense suffering. Yet to try avoiding suffering would mean to risk losing promised blessing. Christ did not promise life to survivors, he promised it to overcomers. Let us be stirred up to faithfulness by encouragement Christ gave to church at Smyrna.

A. context

planned city – regular layout, wide paved streets, majestic buildings; claimed to be most beautiful city of region, compared by some to Paris; large population incl. many Jews, well-protected harbor

had own system of money, schools of science and medicine, alleged birthplace of Homer (Iliad, Oddyssey, Trojan War), 20,000-seat stadium (theater) – performances, incl. gladiator combat and Christian martyrs

famous for worship, esp. of emperors; temple to Zeus, Cybele (basically equivalent of Gaia, Mother Earth) – sat on skyline, gave appearance of a crown to city; also temples to Apollo, Aphrodite, Aesculapius

church perhaps established during Paul’s stay at Ephesus – Acts 19:10This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”

well-known for groves of trees whose bark produced an aromatic gum known as myrrh, one of the spices brought to Jesus by the wise men, the basic element used for our Lord’s embalming and burial

B. character of Christ v.8

Christ as: Glorious Living God-Man – the One who has overcome death comforting and encouraging his persecuted followers

no matter what happens, this one who has not simply defeated his enemies but has overcome last enemy and will eventually destroy it… death (1 Cor. 15:26) – gives him right to tell his people “Do not fear”!

because Lord Jesus is who he is, death can touch none of his without his permission and apart from his eternal good purpose

just as significant as his overcoming death, why was he dead? you say, duh, because of the cross, died on cross to save us

yes, purchased lives of his people at cost of his own life, his shed blood; yet includes far more than insurance card protecting from eternal death and hell

redemptive work of Christ applied to us also delivers from dominion of sin – no longer slaves to its power once born again

Jesus’ work of redemption is finished, doesn’t mean all his work is done – “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Heb. 7:25

not just that we come to God through Christ, our works presented to God by Christ in his office of Mediator, and are acceptable

C. commendation v.9

great praise for church at Smyrna – public recognition by omniscient Lord of the church that they were bearing up well under pressure

one of only two (Philadelphia) that received no criticism from Christ – certainly not a perfect church, didn’t do everything right

reality is that Lord Jesus graciously took their less-than-perfect works, presented them to his Father in way that made them acceptable – in part why he died, why he lives

paradoxes: poor, yet rich; commendable character, yet slandered; facing death, that leads to life; faithful, facing testing

living in prosperous city powered by extensive commercial activity, yet experiencing significant poverty for number of reasons

some kinds of economic activities Smyrnan Christians refused to engage in – ones associated with idolatry or immoral practices: e.g., silversmiths, images of gods/goddesses big business

business/employment opportunities withheld from them because of their commitment to biblical principles – no loyalty to Caesar, no stall in central marketplace

important note: is in parentheses, at same time is Lord Jesus’ take on their circumstances – “but you are rich” – through faith in Christ, those believers possessed riches far beyond what they could even imagine

living in way pleasing to God (no criticism) yet suffered great attacks on their personal integrity and character of their church

word got around: eating body of Christ, drinking blood of Christ – must be practicing some kind of perverse cannibalism

similar: called everyone brother or sister, must be anti-family; and… always greeted one another with a kiss, hmmm…..

for Smyrnans, potential next step: prison; in short few decades, outcome much different for faithful servant of Christ

The church of God which sojourneth at Smyrna to the Church of God which sojourneth in Philomelium and to all the brotherhoods of the holy and universal Church sojourning in every place; mercy and peace and love from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be multiplied.” Prologue

“the proconsul was astounded and sent his own herald to proclaim three times in the midst of the stadium, ‘Polycarp hath confessed himself to be a Christian.’ When this was proclaimed by the herald, the whole multitude both of Gentiles and of Jews who dwelt in Smyrna cried out with ungovernable wrath and with a loud shout, ‘This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the puller down of our gods, who teacheth numbers not to sacrifice nor worship.’ Saying these things, they shouted aloud and asked the Asiarch Philip to let a lion loose upon Polycarp. But he said that it was not lawful for him, since he had brought the sports to a close. Then they thought fit to shout out with one accord that Polycarp should be burned alive. These things then happened with so great speed, quicker than words could tell, the crowds forthwith collecting from the workshops and baths timber and faggots, and the Jews more especially assisting in this with zeal, as is their wont.” Martyrdom of Polycarp, ca. 155 AD

three weights – poverty, slander, prison

are weights people of God frequently called to endure when they demonstrate loyalty to Christ – loss of material goods, loss of reputation, loss of liberty through imprisonment and/or death

is crucial that when either hear of or experience it, we understand who the real enemy is: the ones we see with physical eyes are agents, albeit responsible ones

was true for 7 churches, is true for church through all ages, applies to teaching of remainder of Revelation: poverty, slander, imprisonment, death are real, are serious, are not ultimate – ultimate conflict is spiritual, these other things are evidence

at time of writing, church in Smyrna had persevered, staying true to Christ with head, heart and hands while under great pressure

D. challenge v.9b, 10b

Satan – spreading slander through outsiders about the character of God’s people

first clear statement by Jesus identifying enemy – “synagogue of Satan” – attend to weight of this statement: given by God, the Lord of the Church, not some lesser entity offering opinion

goes on to say “the devil is about to throw some of you into prison” – human beings who go through legal or illegal process in this case agents of Satan

in both cases – Jews in Smyrna, officials in justice system – could very well have been clueless who they were really serving

Pharisees didn’t seem to get it in Jesus’ ministry days: John 8:42-44Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me. …You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.

couple examples: one in Pakistan, another here in US

Asia Bibi, harvesting berries, drank from same water container as other women, accused of insulting Muhammad, on death row since November 2010

David Daleiden, Center for Medical Progress, undercover videos of Planned Parenthood, indicted for… “using false identification to defraud and harm another”

Danger: losing strength; weariness and fear

we’re human not superhuman, we get tired, overwhelmed, afraid in face of long-standing severe opposition

fear of the unknown can be paralyzing, fear of the known when it appears overwhelming can do the same

fear can cause Christian to go undercover, hold back from doing what is right, fail to act wisely in God-given opportunities

E. call v.10a

from lips of Lord Jesus himself: do not fear suffering; don’t waste time fearing what might happen, don’t fear what will happen

suffering that is coming only temporary – ten days; doesn’t mean bed of roses after that, short period of suffering may end in death

call is to faithfulness – not perfection, not success, not survival, but denying self, carrying cross, following Christ at all costs

F. conquerors’ reward v.10c

Christ promises to bring faithful believers through testing, through tribulation, through first death and guarantees no harm from second

Jesus already said, Matt. 10:28, “do not fear those who kill the body”; there is nothing of eternal value anyone apart from God can take away from us

Don’t be afraid, whatever lies in your future – the Lord Christ himself will take care of you in all your circumstances.

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