The Church Nobody Wants to Attend


Today, I want to continue with our study of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches of Revelation by taking a look at what was said to the church of Smyrna.

Smyrna was an Ancient Greek city located at a central and strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. This place is known today as Izmir, Turkey. Due to its advantageous port conditions, its ease of defense and its good inland connections, Smyrna rose to prominence. As one of the principal cities of Roman Asia, Smyrna vied with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title “First City of Asia.” There was a Christian church here from a very early time, probably originating in the considerable Jewish colony.  A mob of Jews and pagans abetted the martyrdom of Polycarp in AD 153. Christian tradition tells us that Polycarp was a disciple of John and was ordained as bishop in Smyrna by John the apostle. He was burned at the stake and stabbed through the heart because he refused to burn incense to the Roman emperor.

As far as the message to the church, it is interesting to note that the message to the church at Smyrna begins with the same comment by Jesus that each message does:

I know your works.

Jesus is telling each church (and us) that He intimately knows how we live – what we use our energy on. It is important for us to know that, while people may be fooled by the outside front we put on for others, Jesus is not. He is acquainted with how we truly live our lives.

As the Lord continues with His message, we find out some things about the church in Smyrna.

The church in Smyrna may not have been the most successful looking church from the outside and might not have been one attractive to join. It was a church which was undergoing tribulation.

Tribulation – thlípsis – properly, pressure (what constricts or rubs together), used of a narrow place that “hems someone in”; tribulation, especially internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”).

The church at Smyrna was under tremendous pressure, with seemingly no options for escape. This was probably occurring due to the persecution of the church by Roman authorities. It is believed and backed up by Jesus’ message that the persecution was brought on by unbelieving Jews who incited the Roman authorities against the church.

Two interesting notations are made by Jesus about these unbelieving Jews:

While it is rarely disputed that these persecutors were ethnic Jews, Jesus says that they are not truly Jews. This reminds me of the revelation given by the apostle Paul in the book of Romans:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. 2:28-29

The apostle Paul wrote these words after telling us that there is no partiality with God; Gentiles who worship Him and live godly lives will be accepted and unbelieving Jews will not be.

Jesus said another interesting thing as well: He equated the actions of the unbelieving Jews with that of Satan. Scripturally, actions that are of the flesh are no different to Jesus than actions directly from Satan. When Saul of Tarsus was persecuting believers in Jesus and was confronted by the Lord on the Damascus road, Jesus said these words:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Acts 9:4

Attacks against God’s people are attacks against Jesus!

Jesus also tells us that the church in Smyrna was in poverty. This word is used to describe being without physical resources. While we are not sure as to why, this could have been a result of the persecution they were enduring.

So, this was a church enduring intense pressure and in financial need.

Could it have been easy to judge this church as having problems? Or, as a church that God had abandoned?

Jesus said they were rich! We must be careful about our opinions of what is happening and not use unbiblical standards to judge a people!

Unbiblical standard:

How much money do they have? Are they growing numerically? Are they being well spoken of?

If this wasn’t enough, Jesus said it was going to get tougher. Some of the members were about to be imprisoned and tested for ten days. The number 10 in the Bible seems to represent:

Holiness to God; authority; completion of judgment.

This was the church’s direction from Jesus:

“Be faithful and I will rescue you!”

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Sometimes, God is glorified by our faithfulness in tribulation and not our rescue from tribulation.

The crown of life is given to those who serve Jesus faithfully in this life in the face of persecution and trial.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

As He often does in these messages, Jesus uses an illustration that the people of the area are familiar with to drive home the truth of His message.

In verse 8, Jesus introduced His right to give this message by saying:

“These things says the First and Last, who was dead, and came to life”

In verse 11, Jesus said:

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”

The church in Smyrna was facing life and death. If they held on to their faith in Christ, it meant death in this world. Jesus acknowledges their situation and encourages them by saying:

“I am the God of First things, but I’m also the God of Last things. I am God in the midst of your death. I rule in death, just as I rule in life. I was dead myself, but came to life. So, shall you.”

Don’t fear natural death; instead fear the second death – the death from which no man returns.

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8

There is more to life than what we see and know. An absence of trouble does not prove that a church is a church of Christ. A church’s faithful perseverance through trials, attacks, and tribulation prove that they are a church that pleases God.

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I Love That Guy!


So many people seem to be able to relate to the apostle Peter. His zeal for Jesus coupled with his failures at critical times make him a beloved figure in the Bible. Everyone has experienced the “high” of Peter’s passion and the “low” of his failures making him someone who we can easily empathize with.

 

One of the things that Peter speaks about we have all experienced in life: suffering.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:3-7

Suffering and persecution can cause either growth or bitterness. The response of the individual determines the result. Since no one  is exempt from suffering or persecution, it is important for us to learn how to successfully navigate these realities. Successful navigation of suffering and persecution is the primary lesson of First Peter.

Peter begins his letter by pointing out a reality as powerful as the certainty of persecution. The reality he speaks of is important to the navigation of suffering.

First, he reminds the believers that:

  1. They are equipped to handle anything they face.

The trials of the present or those in the future have already been seen by the foreknowledge of God. Nothing catches Him off guard. God is not making plans “on the fly” but has a plan for (let’s make this personal) you that is from all eternity. God has seen every move by the enemy in advance and has already prepared His move that brings about “checkmate”. You are the elect of God. That means you are chosen for this moment. You are chosen to overcome this moment, not to be defeated by your sufferings. You have been born again which means every aspect of your character that would spell defeat for you has been broken off of you and you are being sanctified by the Spirit of Jesus. The very aspects of Jesus that brought Him through His time of trial victoriously are being worked into you at this very moment! You are covered by, washed in, and regenerated by the blood of Jesus! You are not facing what you are going through as “Parkey Cobern: sometimes ok and sometimes not”, you are going through this as a regenerated child of God under the authority of the Spirit with goodness and mercy running right beside you! You have died to what defeats you and are alive to the power of God!

  1. They are guaranteed to win!

Let’s make this personal again: Peter reminds us that we have an inheritance reserved in heaven for us that cannot be messed up by Satan or you: an inheritance that cannot lose its value over time, like some 401K weakened by bad circumstances, nor is can it just disappear on you like some of the people and things you value in life. Your victory and the accompanying spoils are kept in heaven for you, guarded by a God who has already kicked the devil out of heaven with no chance of his interference in the future!

To overcome whatever you are facing, it is essential that you remember that your victory is assured!!!!!

  1. God, not the devil is in control of how “hot” things get!

To successfully navigate persecution and suffering, you must realize that God, not the devil is in control of how “hot” things get in your life! If you believe Satan is controlling things, then you will get discouraged because you know how full of hate he is. But, if you know that God is in control of your trial, then you realize that love is actually controlling your fate and that the trial is destined, not for your destruction but to work toward your growth and the promotion of God’s glory!

Verse 5 tell us that we are “kept” by the power of God through faith for salvation to be revealed. This is an important statement. The word “kept” means that we have a military like guard around us which has been authorized to use whatever force that is necessary to ensure that the will of God is done in our lives! Do you see them? They are present and will fulfill their mission!

Verse 5 also states that our faith in God is assuring an outcome for us known as salvation. The word “salvation” means deliverance! The outcome of your situation is deliverance!

Another truth of verse 5 is that this deliverance is destined to be revealed! So, when you put this all together, you know that:

I’m equipped to handle anything I face!

My victory is guaranteed and reserved for me!

God, not the devil is in control of what is happening to me!

I am guarded by angels authorized to use whatever force necessary to fulfill the will of God!

Deliverance is my destiny!

In the perfect time, I will see the manifestation!

 

Apocolyptic Attitudes Toward Christians


In Matthew 24:1-10, the apostle recalls a conversation that Jesus had with his disciples regarding what was coming in the future. It was such a striking conversation, that it was recorded by two other gospel writers; Mark in chapter 13 and Luke in chapter 21. Although John does not record this conversation in his gospel, he writes an entire book about a revelation given to him by Jesus which elaborates on many of the events spoken of in this very conversation.

In this conversation, Jesus speaks of the world as we know it changing and even coming to an end. He points out several changes and some events in the future which will allow the disciples to know that the end is near and His coming eminent.

To believe these words, one must believe that Jesus is exactly who He says He is: THE Prophet of God; His Son sent to guide and save the world! While many don’t live as if they believe Jesus, there is still a fascination with His words regarding the end of all things.

Something about life in the present is peaking interest in this conversation. Are we truly near the end?

Last week, I gave a short talk about the prophetic reference points Jesus gave His disciples which function as signs to point out where we are on the scope of time. Those two reference points were the destruction of the Jewish Temple which was accomplished in 70 AD and the establishment of the covenant of peace between Israel and its enemies which is brokered by and then broken by the anti-Christ.

In between these two reference points, many prophetic events happen.

I want to discuss a few signs that Jesus said would occur in or around the church that reveal that the end is approaching. The sign we are looking at today has to do with apocolyptic attitudes toward Christians.

Christianity has been the predominant religion of influence in the west since the days of the Roman emperor Constantine. This influence came through two primary avenues: the spread of the gospel through evangelization and the corruption that followed the institution of the temporal powers of the papacy. One good – another not so great.

Although not all scholars agree, Christianity was a driving force behind the creation of the laws and institutions of the republic of the United States. This is according to the writings of the Founding Fathers themselves. While Christianity has not been popular in many nations around the globe, it is at this time the predominant religion worldwide comprising 2.18 billion people; one third of the world’s population.

Jesus stated that one sign of the end times would be that true believers would be hated by ALL nations because of their devotion to Jesus and His Word. Despite what we consider advancement in thinking, persecution of Christians continues.

Here are some statistics regarding the persecution of Christians:

163,000 die every year because of their faith in Christ

Half of all martyrs have died in this century – 35 million!

2025 – Number will rise to 210,000 deaths yearly!

The headlines are full of stories about the persecution of Christians worldwide.

The US has always been considered a friend of religious freedom and Christianity in particular, yet recently, attacks against public expressions of Christianity have increased dramatically especially through the court system. The Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and Nativity Scenes are suddenly considered “toxic.” Wearing Christian T-shirts at school or singing Christmas carols that mention Christ is considered unlawful. In some quarters, the US military has been teaching its soldiers that groups that support traditional marriage or believe in evangelization are hate groups.

Even top public officials in our own nation often make a stand against the truth of the faith.

Here’s a few comments by a top current policy maker:

“Even those who claim the Bible’s inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, sensing that some passages – the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ’s divinity – are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life.”

When asked what the definition of sin is – “Being out of alignment with my values.”

When asked about support for same-sex marriage and the benefits that accompany marriage – “I am not willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount.”

“I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize.”

“All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isa, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer.”

“The sweetest sound I know is the Muslim call to prayer.”

These are all quotes from the leader of the free world, our President. I’m not throwing stones, just reflecting to you that Jesus said you will be hated by ALL nations. Will this attitude change for a season of time? Possibly, but it will return with a vengeance as we get closer and closer to Christ’s one thousand year reign.

Attitudes are changing toward Christians, even in America. Jesus said it is a sign of the end.