Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Smyrna: The Rich Little Poor Church

Series: Jesus' Seven Messages
Part 2 Smyrna: The Rich Little Poor Church

Revelation 2:8-11
(8)  And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
(9)  I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
(10)  Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
(11)  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Last week we began this series with Jesus’ letter to Ephesus.  He told them that He knew all about their works, how they were so busy, but they had gotten far from Him in their heart, and had ceased doing the most important works.  He called them to repentance and history tells us that at least in the short term, they did repent.  They were known for their love.  Eventually it seems as if they slid back into the wrong routine and today the city of Ephesus and the church that was there, are gone.
That is one reason why the next church, in the city of Smyrna, is so special.  Of the seven churches that Jesus wrote to, only Smyrna, modern day Izmir in Turkey is still alive and still has a church with believers worshiping our Savior!
Smyrna is only one of two churches that didn’t get corrected by the Lord.  They got it right, and continued on!
But if you would line up the churches side by side and choose one that you would attend, I don’t think that Smyrna would be the most appealing at first glance.
They were a church that was poor.  They lived in a rich and beautiful city.  The motto on their money was “First City in Asia in size and beauty”
But Smyrna was fiercely loyal to Rome.   They had built a temple to Roma and another to Tiberius a Roman leader.  The people were required to take a pinch of incense and sprinkle it on the fire and say Caesar is Lord.  When they did that they would receive a certificate that allowed them to be a part of the civic affairs.  To not do that subjected you to criticism, having your things taken, violence and death!
***Imagine going to a baseball game or public event and when the National anthem was played, you saw someone, not raise their hand to their heart, or maybe they even turned their back while it was being played.  That person is going to be looked at crazy, and maybe even hurt!   Imagine that times a hundred in Rome!
This is probably one reason why the believers here are suffering such poverty.  They would only bow to Jesus, and not a political leader as Lord.
The other reason is they were suffering persecution from the Jews. 
Jesus goes so far as to say these people were really not Jews, but of the synagogue of satan.
Strong words from the Lord that remind us that just being in a church or appearing religious does not mean that a person is a true believer of Jesus!
Smyrna was known for its production of Myrrh.  The word itself is the Greek word for Myrrh. Myrrh was a plant substance that was used for medicine:
They gave Jesus wine mingled with Myrrh but He refused.
Mar 15:23  And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.
Myrrh was also a plant used for its fragrance.  For Myrrh to release its fragrance, it had to be crushed.
So we find the church of Smyrna (myrrh) in a place of poverty and tribulation (crushing) that was releasing the fragrance of Christ to the world.
This church was in the right place, at the right time and Jesus is going to speak encouraging words to them.
About Jesus:  Rev 2:8  And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

Jesus can relate to the believers here.  The city itself had been destroyed numerous times and had been rebuilt upon its ruins.  Earthquakes, wars, disasters, whatever could come its way, did, and yet they would rebuild, and revive.
So when Jesus speaks to them of being dead and now alive, He is saying, I have been through what you are going through.  I know, I understand.
***One thing that a new husband has to learn is that his wife doesn’t always want a solution.  Sometimes she just wants to talk about the problem.  She wants to get it out and have someone listen to her.  She wants someone to know that someone actually cares enough to listen and not just to try and offer a solution.
Contrast that with the teenager who said “Home is where you can say anything you want, because no one is listening anyway!”
What it must have meant to those believers for Jesus to say to them “I was dead….and am alive!” “I KNOW your works, your tribulation, your poverty….”
God was not blind to what was going on.
That begs the question.  If they are true believers, than why is God letting this happen to them?
Why are they having to go through these trials, persecutions and hardship?
Because one of the best ways to separate true believers from the hypocrites is through trials and persecution!
Hypocrites won’t stick around during these hardships.  When the perceived benefits don’t outweigh the suffering and pain they have to go through, then they are gone!
What was it that kept the believers there, in the fire? 
They loved Jesus!  They could remember all that He had done for them.  They remembered how much He had loved them. 
***I spoke recently to my grandmother, who, while she was in the hospital watching over my grandfather, fell, and was hospitalized herself.  She was telling me that she had gotten a six pack of diet Pepsi, my grandfather’s favorite, for his refrigerator before she had left the room. She wanted to make sure he was taken care of.  I have always noticed the great care that she shows him.  He needs her to get out of bed, go to the bathroom, get seated in the living room, and I told her “Thank you granny for taking such good care of him and loving him.”  She replied “He has done so much for me and my children….”
That is the way a Christian feels about Jesus!
Why do we come to church Sunday morning and Sunday night? He has done so much for me!
Why do we attend small group bible studies and go soulwinning and pick up people? He has done so much for me!
Why do we pay our tithe and support the church? He has done so much for me!
This word tribulation, which means being crushed like a cart wheel running over grain, and this poverty (one of two words meaning poor and this meant totally poor (maybe like our “I’m broke” compared to being totally homeless)) didn’t push away the true believers, they didn’t quit or give up, they stayed right there, being crushed, releasing the fragrance of Christ.

Jesus tells them Fear Not! Be faithful!
The devil is going to cast some of you into jail, for ten days, to be tried.
When our trying time comes, will we be faithful?
Note that He said ten days.  There was an appointed end to the suffering.  It wasn’t going to last forever.  Just hold on!  Be faithful!  Don’t fear when you can’t seem to see me in the midst of the problem!

You are rich….
In the material realm, they were poor, but they had the things that really mattered.
·         Love for Jesus
·         True Christian fellowship
·         Forgiveness
·         Assurance of heaven
So if I would ask you this morning, are you rich? What would your answer be?  I don’t want to know the balance of your 401k or the value of your properties, but do you have the things that really matter?
Do you have a relationship with the one that can see you through the crushings of life? 

Closing: When Jesus told them to be faithful unto death, they would need to remember those words.
One example of their suffering comes to us from history, just a few years after they received this letter.  In 155 AD, the Bishop of the church of Smyrna, a man named Polycarp, who was a disciple of John the Beloved, was martyred for Jesus.  This man was arrested at the request of an angry mob that cried, “Away with the Atheists; let Polycarp be sought out!”
                The old preacher, he was 86 at the time, was given the opportunity to renounce Jesus.  The magistrate, who did not want to see the old man die, said, “What harm is there in saying, Lord Caesar?”  But, Polycarp refused!  When they entered the stadium, where the executions took place, they tried again saying, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.”  Polycarp fixed his gaze on the crowd, waved his arms at them and said, “Away with the atheists!”  The magistrate again attempted to get Polycarp to renounce his faith and said, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ.”  To that, the old man cried, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
                After a few more attempts to get the old preacher to renounce Jesus, they led him away to the stake to burn him alive.  They were about to nail him to the post and Polycarp said, “Leave me as I am; for He that giveth me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.”  So, they left him loosely bound and they lit the fire.  As the flames rose around him, he was heard to pray and rejoice in Jesus.  He died for his faith and in doing so he left an indelible imprint on the fabric of time.)

Those words must have echoed in his mind: “Be Faithful!”

People sell out so quickly, they choose a job over Jesus, sex over a Savior, a comedian over Christ.  

I wonder if you hear those words in your ears?  Be Faithful! Be Faithful!


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