April 29, 2007 Easter 4, Year C
April 29, 2007
Easter 4, Year C
Scripture: The Acts of the Apostles 9: 36-43
The Revelation of John 7:9-17
The Gospel of John 10:22-30
Summary: John of Patmos warned his readers about the consequences of being unfaithful to the Lord. He also told them that faithfulness and the Christ-like life had greater rewards than they could ever imagine. Faithfulness always has great rewards.
“The Victory Beyond”
Toward the end of the4 first century, Christians were in great jeopardy. Domitian was the emperor of Rome and he launched a reign of terror against any person or group whom he thought to be a threat to his power.
Unfortunately, he became persuaded that Christians were a rising threat because they refused to worship him or to make even a small religious sacrifice to honor him. Therefore, he chose to force them to change their ways or suffer the consequences.
One Christians at that time was named John. He was put in exile on a small a Greek island called Patmos, away from the larger population. But from Patmos he wrote what is now the book of Revelation to encourage other Christians to be faithful to the Lord.
Actually, he wrote the document primarily for seven churches with which he was well acquainted. They were scattered throughout the country we now know as Turkey. That is important to know because too many modern Christians think Revelation was written for our time and that it tells of events to come at some future time. It wasn’t. In fact, the very first verse of the book reads: “THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST, WHICH GOD GAVE HIM TOSHOW HIS SERVANTS WHAT MSUT SOON TAKE PLACE….”1 (Rev. 1:1).Revelation was written for seven churches in Asia about A.D. 95.
Perhaps you have read or tried to read this puzzling book and have not been able to understand a great deal of it. Don’t feel bad. Some scholars think it was written in a sort of code. If so, you would have to have a clue to the code to understand it. Basically, what you need to understand is that the author was writing to seven churches, and if the authorities got hold of the letter – if its message was too obvious – they might ratchet up the persecution against those churches.
Those churches were located in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, ancient Philadelphia and Laodicea. We can see what John had to say to those bodies of Christ, but remember his words were meant primarily for them, not us.
Of course, much of what John wrote can be used by us as devotional material. But we should never allow ourselves to get bogged down in concocting some bizarre twist to what was written to seven particular churches in the first century.
JOHN PURPOSE IN WRITING
Three things stand out in what stand out in what John said to those churches: The church members should remain faithful to Christ, live Christ-like lives and withstand any persecution executed against them even if it meant great suffering and death. To remain steadfast and faithful even in the face of death, John said, was to receive the crown of eternal life.2.(Rev. 2:10). They would find victory beyond the death of the body. And that victory would be glorious.
What was the fate of those seven churches? At sometime in history, each of those was destroyed.
You can actually take a tour to the site of each of the seven churches, but there is not much to see. There are some partial walls here and there, but mostly just piles of debris and rocks with weeds growing out of the remains.
How were the churches destroyed? Mainly by Roman soldiers or followers of false gods or people who thought Christians were a threat. Some may have been partially tumbled by an earthquake.
The interest in these sites comes from remembering what once was there. Our ancient brothers and sisters in Christ once gathered regularly at those sites. Paul preached at some of them. There, the saints heard the stories of our Lord. They were baptized, married and from there they were buried. There they worshiped, celebrated Holy Communion, greeted each other with a holy kiss, fellowshipped together, ate together, served together, laughed together, cried together and, in some cases, even suffered and died together.
One of those godly persons was an elderly man named Polycarp. He was a respected leader of the church in Smyrna. If ever there was a saint, a faithful and strong Christian, it was Polycarp.
He was asked by Roman authorities to renounce Christ. He was told that if he would but say that Caesar is Lord and offer some sort of sacrifice in honor of the emperor, he would be saved. Listen to his answer: “EIGHTY AN SIX YEARS HAVE I SERVED HIM, AND IN NOTHING HAS HE WRONGED ME, HOW, THEN, CAN I BLASPHEME MY KING, WHO SAVED ME?”
So the Romans made a bonfire, placed the godly old fellow in it and burned him to death. Twelve other church members in Smyrna were also slain about the same time. They would not renounce Christ and call Caesar their lord. Probably they had been emboldened by Polycarp as well as John of Patmos’ letter.
THE RELEVANCE TODAY
Now what do you think? Is John of Patmos’ letter helpful for Christians under siege today? Ask the Coptic Christians in Egypt. They are among the poorest people in that country. They are often attacked by fanatical Muslims. Many cannot get work because they are Christians. So they go to the refuse dumps to pick up whatever might be useful or sold or eaten. Think, too, about Christians in Pakistan or Indonesia or African countries or even Afghanistan. Many are persecuted in one way or another. Not many months ago we heard an Afghanistan Christian man named Abdul Rahman. He was raised as a Muslim, but he became a Christian while in Germany for a while. When certain Muslims in Afghanistan learned that Abdul was a converted Christian, a death sentence was issued against him. That’s because under Islamic law, renunciation of Islam is a crime. Yes, the new Afghanistan constitution guarantees religious freedom under international agreements, but it also says no law can be contrary to Islamic principles.
Rahman said to an American newsman, “THEY WANT TO SENTENCE ME TO DEATH, AND I ACCEPT IT, BUT I AM NOT A DESERTER AND NOT AN INFIDEL; I AM A CHRISTIAN, WHICH MEANS I BELIEVE IN THE TRINITY.”
Fortunately, Rahman was eventually offered sanctuary in Italy, where he is free to practice his faith.
We are seeing Christians under fire more and more these days throughout the world. Some Christians in China are forced to worship secretly in house churches. Christians in places where Muslim extremists are in the majority often are harassed or persecuted. Fervent Hindus in India often make it difficult for Christ’s followers, even wrecking their churches. In Saudi Arabia anyone telling the religious police about Christians worshiping in a private home is given a cash reward.
There is far more pain and oppression of Christians around the world today than most of us realize. Ys, John’s words, though written for people in another time and place, are still relevant for Christians today.
VICTORY AWAITS THE FAITHFUL
There is a comforting truth that John of Patmos wrote in this letter to the harassed Christians. It is that no matter what happens to the servants of Christ, those who are faithful unto death will receive what John called “THE CROWN OF LIFE.” John envisioned that all the faithful souls who came through the trials and agonies of this world would be victorious in the life beyond this life. Occasionally, John waxed poetic, especially when he described those who came out of what he called “THE GREAT ORDEAL.” In heaven, John pictured victorious souls “ROBED IN WHITE” worshiping God as tears of indescribable joy begin to flow. IN our reading for today, John wrote, “GOD WILL WIPE AWAY EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES.”
Does that kind of talk mean anything us to us? Surely it means something to those of us who have tried to serve the Lord faithfully no matter what. One steadfast Christian lady was thought to be a bit naïve to hold fast to Christ when she refused to cheat at the request of her employer. “Oh,” said her boss, “is that what they teach you at the silly little church you attend?” “I’m very proud of that ‘silly church,” she answered firmly. Will just such a steadfast Christian as that soul not be laughing as God wipes away every tear from her eyes?
What about us when our lives are challenged or tumbling in because of some trouble in our lives?
A woman asked her pastor to go with her to a hospital where her husband was to undergo exploratory surgery. After a long wait, the doctor reported that the man had an inoperable cancer. He had only weeks to live. The wife and pastor had a prayer, and, since the man was still in recovery, the pastor said he would return the following day to pray with him.
The pastor expected to find the man distraught. But he said to the pastor:
I have been very fortunate in life. I have a good job like. I have a nice home I cherish. I have a wonderful wife and two good boys now on their own and in the prime of life. I have many good friends with whom I have great fellowship. I especially love my church family.
Beyond all of my blessings here, I have Christ as my lord and Savior. I have the hope of heaven. So here is what I have concluded. No matter what happens to me, I can’t lose.
If I live, I will continue to have joy here. If I go to be with Christ, I will have all of the joys of eternal life. Pastor, the way I see it, I win either way.
A few months later, he gained the victory beyond.