“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!” Revelation 2:8-9b; Pentecost 15; 9/22/19; Dear Church #3
I know you! I’ve known you since you were a little girl, or little boy, and even before then. I know your parents and your grandparents. I know all about you! Maybe you’ve had an experience like that in your life where someone comes up to you and says they know all about you. Maybe it’s someone here at church. Or maybe you heard those words from your parent or your grandparent. I can remember my dad always saying, “I know you better than you know yourself.” But, does anyone truly know you completely? Your ups and downs? What brings you joy and what discourages you. Who is it that truly knows your heart?
Our text for today from the book of Revelation reminds us that God is the One who truly knows everything about us. Like Psalm 139 says, “O Lord You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar. “ God knows what motivates us. But, He also knows what we hide from others, what makes us afraid. He knows our faith, and the struggles we have with our faith. He knows all about us. And still He loves us and will provide for all our needs as we stay strong in the faith—as we are faithful.
Today, we continue in our study of the Letters in Revelation, which we have called, “Dear Church!” These are letters written by Jesus to the seven churches in Asia, modern day Turkey, and yet they have a tremendous way of applying to us today. They are reminder that God knows His Church and He knows His people today as well!
Today’s letter is to the Church of Smyrna. Smyrna, (modern day Izmir) as you can see on the map, Smyrna is right on the water. It has a large harbor on the Aegean Sea. And because of it, had a lot of commerce/trading going on there. Smyrna often referred to itself proudly as the “First City” of Asia. It was well known for its stadium, library, and its theater. But, Smyrna was also known for being the center of pagan worship of the Roman Emperor. From times even before the coming of Christ, the people of Smyrna had built a temple for worshiping the Emperor, called “Dea Roma”, and afterward had built a temple for the Emperor Tiberius as well. In addition, Smyrna was also known for having a thriving Jewish population.
All of these things really add in to the background of this letter, because you see, the Christian Church at Smyrna was bracing itself for a very hard persecution. Because the Christians would not bow down to the Emperor Domitian, they were often imprisoned, beaten, and killed for their faith. The Jewish population also, joined in with the pagans on this persecution, and made it especially brutal. Jesus knew that the Christian Church at Smyrna was trying hard to be faithful.
He writes, “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 ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
It’s important to see that Jesus again calls Himself the “First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. He sees everything from an eternal point of view. He knows all things. And He certainly understands persecution. He knows that ultimately everything that opposes faith in Jesus, is truly from Satan. And so this persecution is not even just man-made. It comes from the long and bitter fight between Satan, who wanted the control, and wanted to be like God. That is truly who is opposing the Christians in Smyrna. Jesus knows the hard afflictions that Satan has brought about, even how long they will last.
Jesus says, “I know your afflictions and your poverty.” He is saying, “I know what you are going through. But you are rich! You have stood strong! You have held fast. Yet, what He also sees in the Church of Smyrna is their fear in the face of persecution. On the one hand, it’s understandable. There were losing their jobs, losing their land, and Christians were being carted off and being killed. But on the other hand, fear of the things and the people of this world is really idolatry. Paul writes these words in Romans 8, “What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him graciously give us all things.?”
Jesus Christ was given up for you and me! He came out of the glory of heaven to “Fight the Great Fight” against Satan and this dark world, and Jesus was victorious. When He was faced with opposition, He didn’t turn away in fear and run away. He came straight into Jerusalem, on the back of a donkey, knowing full well that Satan, through his agents, the Pharisees, the Chief Priests, and the Roman Government would desperately try to destroy Him.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, prayed this prayer. “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus submitted to His Father’s will without fear. He was captured, put on trial, mocked, and beaten. He made the great confession before Pontius Pilate, and was sentenced to be crucified. At any moment, He could have turned and walked away, but He willingly laid down His life for us! So that we would be forgiven of all of our sins. And He rose again from the dead so that we would be victorious, over sin, death, and the devil, and would never need to fear the things of this world, for they have been defeated.
Dear Church, this is a great message for all of us too! And very relevant and important for our lives. So often we get afraid of the things of this world. We see true Christianity being opposed at every level, and many churches struggling. We see attacks on the truth of the Bible, which is the Word of God. And Falsely saying things like “this world was not created by God, it came about on its own and has evolved over millions and millions of years”, when the Bible is clear that God created this world out of love in six days and rested on the seventh. And also they falsely say “that marriage can be any two people no matter whether they are two men or two women”, when the Bible is very clear that that marriage is a lifelong relationship of one man and one woman, and is a very picture of Christ and the church. We are often tempted to fear and give up and give in. Instead, we need to stand strong Church! As Jesus says to the church of Smyrna and to each of us, “Be faithful, even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.”
“Be faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.” It’s a promise that almost all of us in this church today have made before this altar or one like it as a promise to God. It is a promise that you would be faithful even to death. It’s simple but it is very profound! In your confirmation your pastor likely asked you a question like this, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it. And you likely answered, “I do so intend. With the help of God!” But, do you really understand what it means to be faithful? It means to trust God and His Word in all aspects of life. In how you love and honor your spouse in marriage. In how you raise your family and bring them to be baptized and teach them God’s Word. In how you honor your father and mother. In how you forgive and love your neighbor as yourself. In how you live as a member of the Church.
And yet, we have all fallen haven’t we? God knows us! We have not always been faithful. That’s why we say “with the help of God!” We desperately need God’s help! That’s why He gave His Son for us! So, we look to Jesus, the First and the Last, the Faithful Witness, and rejoice in His forgiveness, and we pray that God would give us, as His people His church faithful hearts and minds to trust in Him always.
Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.” You will not face eternal death at the final judgment. Instead, you who have faith in Jesus, you who are faithful, will have eternal life, and will receive the victory crown!
God grant it…