What Christ Says to MDPC: Don’t Fail To Be Faithful
I wish to read for you these words from the 2nd chapter of the Revelation to John. This is the Word of God:
“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty. Yet you are rich. I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you the devil will put some of you in prison to test you and you will suffer persecution for 10 days. Be faithful even to the point of death. And I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”
Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory. Amen.
Pray with me please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
All the world loves a contest. People everywhere are drawn to athletic competition. There is something magnetic about both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. However, there are some games in life which are not played for sport or pleasure. They are played in deadly earnest. These are not competitions pitting an athlete or a team against another athlete or team. These are competitions pitting ultimate values and realities against one another. These are contests of life and death. These are battles for the human soul. That is precisely the contest we encounter in this second letter of seven in the Book of Revelation. It is a contest pitting Jesus Christ against a whole city. Not just any city, but one of the truly prestigious cities of the ancient world. It is Jesus Christ versus the City of Smyrna. It is a battle of life and death. It is a battle for the human soul.
A word, please, about Smyrna. Smyrna was, by all accounts, the most beautiful city of the ancient world. We learned last week that Ephesus claimed to be the number one city in Asia Minor. And I suppose that was true. But if that were true, then Smyrna could legitimately claim to be number two. And being number two, like Avis, they tried harder. They were determined. If they could not surpass Ephesus in commercial and political importance, they would indeed surpass Ephesus in terms of the quality of life. And in that, they succeeded magnificently. It was an exquisitely beautiful city. It was marked by extraordinary architecture. It was a cultural center where the arts flourished more extravagantly than anywhere else in the world at that time.
It was a city of fantastic wealth. As a matter of fact, jutting up right out of the center of the City of Smyrna, there was a high hill. And the road leading up to the top of that hill was literally paved with gold. If you ever wondered why it is that Revelation makes such a point about all the streets of heaven being paved with gold, well, John was simply reminding his readers, that if the most magnificent site in the ancient world was Smyrna’s street of gold, well, heaven, with all of its streets paved with gold would be infinitely more magnificent still. Also, on the top of that hill, a portico, a circle, hundreds of white marble columns placed in a circle so that from a distance, this beautiful city seemed to be wearing a shimmering white crown. Furthermore, Smyrna was closely aligned to Rome more than any other city in Asia Minor. As a matter of fact, one of the startlingly beautiful sites in Smyrna was a temple built to enshrine the power of the Roman empire and to foster worship of the Roman emperor. The temple was called the Temple of Dei Roma. The Temple of Mother Rome. And so because of that unique alliance, as the power of Rome rose, Smyrna ascended as well.
So here, is this exquisitely beautiful place, fabulously wealthy, basking in its own glory, focusing all its energies inward, celebrating the quality of life afforded to those who lived in this magnificent city. And then suddenly, the City of Smyrna is confronted head-on by a lowly provincial carpenter and his rapidly growing band of faithful followers. Look at what Jesus says to the City of Smyrna. “You’re not first. I am. I am the first and the last. I am the one who was dead and came to life again. You may think that you are excelling in everything you do, not so. Oh, you may have a street of gold, and you may have a mountain wearing a crown, and all I have is a brow, wearing a crown of bloody thorns. But the fact of the matter is, My beauty is fairer than yours and My power is greater than yours.”
And thus, the contest was joined. It was a battle of life and death. It was a battle for the souls of the people of the City of Smyrna. Needless to say, the church at Smyrna was on the frontlines of the battle. Make no mistake, it took incredible courage to be a part of the church at Smyrna. That church was constantly under siege by the authorities in the city. And note this please, consequently, because that church was under siege, that church produced a long string of many of the greatest heroes of the early Christian faith. Little wonder that Jesus in writing to the church at Smyrna commended and praised that church unequivocally; not a single negative comment. It’s the only one of the seven of which that is true. Jesus praised them to the heights because here was a church which dared to be Christ’s church at a tough time and in a tough place. Here was a church which did not fail to respond to the call of Jesus Christ to be faithful.
So notice please, that the church at Smyrna was a church which resisted suffering.
And oh, did they suffer. Mind you, the Christians at Smyrna stood firmly against the worship of the Roman empire. Understand please, that all of the citizens of Smyrna were required at least once a year to take a pinch of incense and burn it on the altar at the Temple Dei Roma as an act of worship and oblation to the Roman emperor. The Christians in Smyrna refused to do that. And their refusal drew from them a heavy cost.
We see it so clearly in this letter. They suffered tribulation. The word tribulation has come to mean unbearable pressure. The word is actually drawn from one of the ancient worlds’ forms of execution. They would take a person, stretch the person out on the ground, tie and stake the person to the ground, and then place a huge boulder on the person’s chest. A boulder so heavy that it would gradually but inexorably squeeze the life right out of the person. It was a God-awful way to die.
Well, building from that ancient practice, the word through the ages has come to mean living under terrible pressure. And that’s the kind of situation the Christians at Smyrna encountered. They lived under constant pressure. They never knew from one day to the next what was going to happen. They never knew when some municipal magistrate was going to flex his power and seize them and throw them into prison or put them to death. And it happened all too frequently. So they never knew one day to the next, living under constant, unbearable pressure.
I actually think it’s true for Christians even today, maybe not quite so extreme, but it’s there. There is constant pressure if you’re going to dare to live for Jesus Christ. There is the pressure of temptation, the pressure of conformity, the pressure of cutting corners in order to get ahead, the pressure of following the world’s way rather than Christ’s way. I see that especially in our young people. Young people in this church are truly remarkable. And as I observe them I see that if they dare to live for Jesus Christ, they experience intense pressure. It’s almost as if they have some heavy boulder on their chests. Not easy to be your Christian. Wasn’t then. Isn’t now.
And the Christians at Smyrna suffered poverty.
The church at Smyrna was filled to overflowing with lots and lots and lots of poor people. Abraham Lincoln once said, “God must love poor people because He made so many of them.” Well, I think, yes, God does especially love poor people, but God didn’t make them poor. It’s the world that makes them poor. It’s the City of Smyrna that made those Christians poor. You see, when the Christians objected to the shady business practices that infected the life of the City of Smyrna, well, they were shunned by the commercial community. When they went to apply for a job, they were cold-shouldered because of their belief. When they had a little business of their own, well, they were boycotted by those in the city who favored emperor worship. And because they were denied the protection of the local authorities, their homes were frequently broken into and robbed. It didn’t pay to be a Christian in Smyrna. And sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be a Christian now.
I have a good friend. His name is Lem Clymer. He was forced to resign his position as president and chief operating officer of Holiday Inns of America because, on the basis of his Christian faith, he opposed his company’s acquisition of gambling casinos. I would wager that there are people in this church, maybe some sitting right here who have dared to take their faith into the marketplace or the workplace, and as a result, have been denied a promotion or lost some business. It doesn’t always pay to be a Christian. It didn’t then. It doesn’t now.
And the Christians at Smyrna suffered slander, terrible things were said about them.
Just a sampling. Because they refused to bow the knee to Rome, they were called atheists. Because they greeted one another with a holy kiss and a friendly embrace, they were termed perverts and homewreckers. Because they said in the Lord’s supper, “This is my body. This is my blood,” they were labeled as cannibals. They were horribly slandered. And slander always hurts. But you see that’s one of the strategies of the enemies of Christ. They are constantly engaged in fabricating lies and fomenting rumors in order to try to break the spirit of a Christian and in order to try to undermine the ministry of a church. Oh, make no mistake about it, dear friends, I tell you as honestly as I know how. If you dare to stand for Jesus Christ in your life, sooner or later, you will be slandered. It hurt then, and it hurts now.
And yet, please note, what Jesus says to the church at Smyrna. He says to them, “Listen. I know what you are enduring. I see the tribulation, the poverty, the slander. I understand that. I’ve experienced those things myself. But remember, I am the First and the Last. I am the one who was dead and came to life again. And on the strength of that truth, I tell you Satan cannot and will not win.” And on the strength of those words from Christ, the church at Smyrna, not only survived, ultimately, it thrived and produced a magnificent company of great heroes of the Christian faith.
And that leads me to ask you to notice that the church at Smyrna was also a church where faithfulness was required.
Jesus delivered to the Christians at Smyrna maybe the most astounding promise He ever delivered. He said to them, “Listen. Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Do you get the point? Jesus was saying to the Christians at Smyrna and to the Christians at MDPC, Jesus was saying, “The Christian faith is worth dying for.” And there are a lot of people through the ages who have died for it. But let me ask you something. If it’s worth dying for, isn’t it also worth living for? Isn’t it worth the deepest loyalty that we can give to it? Isn’t it worth the sharing of our time and our talent and our treasure. Isn’t it worth living for?
I have to tell you. This past week, as I watched the unfolding of the summer celebration, a staggering event, a thousand children, several hundred adults and teens, all of them engaged in a mind-blowing array of activities designed to plant the faith deep into the lives of those children and to extend that faith out into the world. As I pondered, the extraordinary sharing of time, talent, and treasure, I have to tell you, I could literally sense God’s pleasure directed to this great church. Oh, my dear friends, we are in possession of the greatest truth the world has ever known, faith in Jesus Christ. And so Jesus Christ is saying to us, “Commit yourself to faith in me. No matter what it may cost you now or in the future, hold on. Hold fast. Don’t waver. Stay the course. Be faithful. Yes, be faithful even to the point of death. And I will give you the crown of life.”
W.R. Mosby, I love this. W.R .Mosby once said, “Jesus promised three things to his people and his church. He promised that they would be constantly in trouble. He promised that they would be completely fearless. He promised that they would be absurdly happy. Duck Dynasty happy, happy, happy. They would be absurdly happy.” And it’s true. Let me give you one example.
Remember, I said, the church at Smyrna a long string of great heroes of the faith? One of those was a man named Polycarp. He ultimately became the bishop of Smyrna. Go back with me to February the 23rd, 115 AD. Polycarp had been constantly in trouble. Year after year, the authorities were after him. And at long last, they finally thought they had him. They seized him and took him to the great arena in Smyrna. And there was an angry, bloodthirsty crowd gathered there. They put him out in the center of the arena and they demanded, “Bow down and worship Caesar right now or you will die.” Polycarp was completely fearless. He said, “For 86 years, I have served Jesus Christ. How can I now blaspheme the King who saved me?” With that, they put wood all around him. They set the wood on fire. Polycarp was absurdly happy. As the flames leapt up around his frail body, suddenly, a great smile split his face and he looked to heaven and he cried, “Oh, God. I rejoice that you have found me worthy of this moment when I become a martyr for my Lord.” And with that, he was gone.
So Jesus says to you and to me and to MDPC, “Commit yourself to Me in faith. You will be constantly in trouble, yes. But you will be completely fearless. And best of all, ultimately, you will be absurdly happy. For if you commit all you are to Me, then I will give to you a joy beyond your wildest imaginings. I will give you the gift of life. Life here and life hereafter.”
Yeah, I know. Nobody’s going to light a fire to your body today. But what about letting Jesus Christ light a fire to your heart today?
Pray with me please.
God on high, hear my prayer. Enable this magnificent church to never ever fail to be faithful. Amen and amen.