Faihthful Unto Death
· Eye doctor, Kim Jong Il – worship of their leader much like Smyrna
· Smyrna: large city 40 miles north of Ephesus – Worship was expected but not worship of Jesus Christ.
· AD 25 Smyrna in competition with eleven other cities to build a temple to Tiberius. Smyrna won and became the center of emperor worship.
· When John records the Revelation of Christ – AD 90s – Domitian emperor – notorious for persecuting and murdering Christians.
· Each year Roman citizens were required to burn incense on an altar to the emperor and say, “Caesar is Lord.” Upon doing so they would receive a certificate indicating they had done their duty. A dilemma for Christians! What do you do?
· When Jesus addresses the Church at Smyrna He doesn’t point out anything they are doing wrong. Instead, He encourages them to remain faithful to death.
· Ephesus – lacked love. Smyrna – full of love. “A willingness to suffer proves the genuineness of love.” John Stott
· Smyrna teaches us faithfulness even in severe difficulty – a lesson we need to learn. (Read Scripture)
· Jesus – “I know your tribulation.” Jesus knows what you are experiencing – in Smyrna intense persecution.
· Believers in poverty. Their faith had cost them all comforts. Economic sanctions against Christians, difficulty getting employment, no one would trade with them, etc. To be a Christian in Smyrna was to give up any hope of financial prosperity.
· Jesus to church – “I know you’ve lost everything in this world but don’t forget how rich you are.”
· Believers slandered by Jews. How ironic! Jews claimed to be the people of God but they rejected God’s Son. Jews protected by Roman government. As a result, they rejected anyone who embraced God’s Son. Therefore, they hated the Christians in Smyrna. Accused them of cannibalism – eating the body of Christ, drinking His blood. Accused them of sexual immorality because of love feasts. Jews wanted to see Christians disposed of.
· Jesus – they claim to be Jews but they are not. In other words, they are not the people of God. (Romans 2:29) – Ethnic background does not determine your relationship with God – what you do with Christ does. These “Jews” were the synagogue of Satan.
· Threat of Imprisonment. Things are bad, and they are going to get worse. Ten days in prison. Ten = a short period of time.
· Coming to Christ doesn’t guarantee your best life now. Your life circumstances could get worse because of your faith. You live in a world that is hostile to Jesus Christ. Theme of Revelation: Jesus protects us through our tribulation but He doesn’t necessarily protect us from tribulation.
· We have much to learn from the Church at Smyrna. We often want to look at the successful churches or successful Christians to learn from (Tim Tebow, Truett McCathy, etc), but we need to look to the suffering churches and suffering Christians – in places like China, the Middle East, etc. to see what real faithfulness looks like. 3 Lessons and 3 questions to ask.
1. Stop focusing on living for your comfort and focus on living for the glorious King.
· For believers in Smyrna – being a Christian was absolutely uncomfortable – loss of career opportunities, loss of relationships, etc.
· We live as if comfort is the ultimate goal of life – to achieve the American Dream. Since comfort tends to be our ultimate desire we redefine faithfulness into a type of Christian living the Bible does not recognize. We want Christianity lite:
· Let me just show up for church and experience a service that makes me feel good, attend a Bible study that scratches the surface but doesn’t go deep, serve in a ministry that fits my schedule, give when I have a surplus of money, go on a mission trip to a place I’ve always wanted to visit – but don’t ask me to sacrifice!
· Reality – Life is one faith-refining tribulation after the next – not a life of ease and comfort@. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
· It’s not that we shouldn’t enjoy comforts if God gives us comforts or that we should seek tribulation. But, a comfortable life cannot be the ultimate pursuit of the Christian. Jesus is the ultimate pursuit – to know Him, to live for His will, to do what He says… “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” Ph. 1:21 “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Ph. 4:11 (Singular goal in half marathon – being faster than Brian…)
· Question: How much time last week did you spend using your resources to improve your life rather than using your resources to know and do the will of God?
· Most of our time is spent to make our lives more comfortable… rather than investing our lives in things that eternally matter…
2. Stop focusing on your safety and focus on your purpose.
· Jesus did not tell the believers of Smyrna to flee – to run to the hills – to find a place where they would not be persecuted or even to lay low. Instead, be faithful unto death. Vs. 10 – If Jesus is worth dying for, then He is also worth living for. (Church in China in high rise – wide open – No fear – only eternity will tell how much they accomplish for the Kingdom!)
· The church at Smyrna would accomplish more for the Kingdom by going through hardship rather than living an easy life. In their suffering they would be able to testify to a lost world that Christ really was worth it all! Smyrna is testifying to us today!
· For many of us, the motto of our lives is, “Play it safe.” Why? Bottom line, we’re afraid to live for Jesus. Here’s why we play it safe:
o Fear change – If I really live for the Lord He’s going to want me to change my life. I like my life the way it is. I’ll play it safe but not getting too close to God.
o Fear losing control – Let God control my life? What if He wants me to do something I don’t want to do? What if He asks me to give something up? I’ll play it safe by ignoring God’s call on my life to surrender all to Him.
o Fear rejection – If I’m vocal about my faith – if I let my coworkers know I’m a Christian, then it will change the way they treat me. I might not be able to get a promotion, etc. I’ll play it safe by being an undercover Christian.
o Fear trust – Trust God with my life? Trust Him with my finances? Trust Him with my family? How can I know I can trust Him? What if He doesn’t come through for me? I’ll play itself by trusting myself rather than God.
· Question: What have I missed out on in my walk with the Lord because I was afraid?
· Who hasn’t heard the Gospel because you were afraid to share? What have you missed out on in your relationship with God because you were afraid to trust Him? What opportunities is our church missing because we want to play it safe? Because we’re afraid of doing ministry in a different way than we’ve always done it? Because we’re afraid we might reach the wrong kind of people who might make our church messy?
· The safest place for you to be is the center of God’s will living for His mission. Your desire for safety is causing you to miss the purpose God has create you!
3. Stop focusing on what the church can do for you and focus on what God can do through a faithful church.
· No church hopping in Smyrna. No First Presbyterian, First Baptist, or Church of God – just the church. If persecution wasn’t meeting your needs you couldn’t find another church. You either followed Christ and served Him through the church or you abandoned Christ. The church didn’t primarily exist to meet your every need, it existed to expand the Kingdom of God in a pagan world.
· A “what can the church do for me” attitude is killing our churches. “Will the church engage me? Will the church create an environment for my kids where they can thrive? Will the music be trendy enough? Will the music be traditional enough? Will the preacher tell enough jokes? Will the preacher be more serious?”
· What if we had an attitude of “What can we do for the cause of Christ through this local church?” Rather than, “what can this church to do help me live a safe, comfortable life?” This is what Northwood needs from you: a commitment to stick around even when it gets tough or you don’t get your way and use your abilities and gifts to further the mission.
· Question: What unrealistic expectations do I have of my church that’s keeping me critical of my church rather than plugged into my church’s mission?
· What’s your hang up with Northwood? 40 Days – Ask God to help you get over your hang ups with and see how He wants to use you at Northwood.
· Gospel: Jesus is first and last who died and came to life. No matter how you suffer, Jesus has already suffered, and He was victorious over suffering. He is victorious and He offers you victory through His death and resurrection. Repent of your sins and trust the One who died for you and rose again for you.
· Invitation for believers: Repent of living simply to “play it safe” or “be comfortable.” Repent of having unrealistic expectations of your church.