Sermon preached on June 26, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
In 2009 Dr. Sheila Matthews, a pediatrician in Kettering, England was dismissed from her position on an adoption panel over her belief that children should not be placed with same-sex couples. She lost her job when she asked to abstain from voting when homosexual couples were planning to adopt because it was against her religious beliefs to allow it. She believed that children would do best if they were placed in traditional homes with a mother and father. Dr. Matthews said,
"She did not believe it was in the interests of the child to be adopted by a same-sex couple."
They wouldn't even allow her to abstain from voting. They didn't want anyone with Christian values on the adoption panel.
In 2009 Olive Jones, a Christian teacher in England was fired for offering to pray for a sick student. Jones taught children who were not well enough to attend school. When she was at a 12 year old student's house, she told the girl and her mother that there were people praying for her. She then asked the child if she could pray for her. Jones said that the mother replied that they were not believers and asked Jones not to pray. So Jones did not pray. Just a few hours later Jones was fired from her job. She said that managers had ruled her comments could be perceived as 'bullying'. Merely offering to pray for a sick child is reason to get someone fired from their job.
In 1986 Peter and Hazelmary Bull bought a hotel in England. In September 2008 they denied a room to a gay couple and were subsequently found to be in violation of the law and were ordered to pay £3,600. The two gay men turned away claimed sexual orientation discrimination under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. Mr. and Mrs. Bulls denied the discrimination, and stated that they had a long-standing policy of banning all unmarried couples, both heterosexual and gay, from sharing a bed at their Private Hotel. Mrs. Bull told the court:
"We accept that the Bible is the holy living word of God and we endeavor to follow it as far as we are able."
But that didn't matter. The court ruled that they had broken the law.
It seems in England that it is becoming impossible for Christians to operate to operate small hotels and bed and breakfasts—unless they turn a blind eye to immorality.
In 2009 in another case in England, Owen and Eunice Johns who had been foster parents for years, heard that their traditional Christian values could conflict with the local authority's duty to 'safeguard and promote the welfare' of those in foster care. They were facing being banned from raising foster children because they were told by a court that, gay rights 'should take precedence' over their religious beliefs. The judges said that Christian beliefs on sexual ethics may be 'inimical' to children. The court made a distinction between kinds of Christianity, saying that Christians in general might well make good foster parents, while people with traditionalist Christian views like Mr. and Mrs. Johns, might well not.
All those incidents happened in Britain. We're a little behind in our country but with the vote last week allowing same-sex marriages in New York it seems that we're quickly catching up. But even before that there were warning signs. Marcia Walden, a licensed counselor in Georgia, working as a counselor at the Center for Disease Control. Marcia was fired after referring a homosexual client to a colleague. Marcia referred the client to another colleague because offering counseling services would conflict with her Christian beliefs on homosexuality. What happened was that Marcia was approached by a woman who wanted help to 'repair' her same-sex relationship. Marcia said,
"I really wanted to help her, but I was not the best counselor for her. And it was in her best interests that I find another counselor to work with her. I asked her if that was okay and she said yes."
So she immediately he asked a colleague if he would take her and he agreed. Within 10 minutes of walking into Marcia's office, the client was with another counselor. But she later filed a complaint with Marcia's employer. Marcia was put on suspension and two weeks later was terminated. Marcia later said,
"In whatever we do we still need to exhibit love and kindness. But I would say never compromise your values, your beliefs, and your principles. And God expects us to be bold. And we can't fear persecution."
Marcia lost her job because of her faithfulness to Jesus. Many Christians in Smyrna made a similar choice. They refused to be involved in the cult of the emperor and suffered loss of employment over it. Jesus commended them for it. Jesus said, (Revelation 2:9)
"I know your afflictions
and your poverty
—yet you are rich!"
One of the great truths we are taught here is that
you are to maintain your allegiance to Jesus in spite of consequences that would result in poverty, imprisonment and death.
How precious is Jesus to you? How important are your Christian values and beliefs to you? Would you confess Jesus if it cost you your job? Would you confess Him if the result of doing so meant that you would go to jail? Would you continue to confess Him if it meant that you would be put to death for Him? Or would you compromise and either renounce or hide your Christian beliefs in such situations?
Jesus' message to Smyrna shows us that there is only once choice for a Christian—that you must do the right thing and be faithful to Jesus. Those who don't overcome won't be given the crown of life and won't be spared the second death. Instead, they will be cast into the lake of fire. The Christians at Smyrna knew that and were faithful to the Lord.
The Christians in Smyrna persevered in a very difficult situation. Smyrna was a city that had a special relationship to Rome and the imperial cult. Robert Mounce writes, (Revelation, p. 73)
"During the period when Rome was engaged in a struggle for supremacy against the Carthaginian empire, (roughly 265-146 B.C.) Smyrna had placed itself squarely on the side of the Romans, and in 195 b.c. it became the first city in the ancient world to build a temple in honor of Dea Roma. Smyrna won permission (over ten other Asian cities) to build a temple to the emperor Tiberius."
There was emperor worship in Rome. People were taught that the Emperor was a god. In cities like Smyrna, all citizens were required by law to sacrifice to the emperor. G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p.241)
"It was almost impossible to have a share in a city's public life without also having a part in some aspect of the imperial cult… Those refusing to participate were seen as politically disloyal and unpatriotic and would be arrested and punished according to Roman law (e.g., exile, capital punishment)."
Of course Christians could not sacrifice to a Roman Emperor. The Bible tells us that we are to worship God alone. Many Christians in Smyrna lost their jobs and became poor.
Being poor is not easy. It is even more so when you have a family to support and children to feed. But that's what they were called to do for Jesus. The great question for you is:
Are you ready to be poor for Jesus?
Are you willing to lose your job for Him? Is He so important to you that you will turn your back on your economic well being rather than renounce Him and His teachings? Are you willing to lose your home for Him?
In the future Christians will face those choices. In Revelation 13 we read that people won't be able to buy or sell unless they have the mark of the beast. It says about the beast from the earth, (verses 15-18)
"He was given power
to give breath to the image of the first beast,
so that it could speak and
cause all who refused
to worship the image to be killed.
He also forced everyone,
small and great, rich and poor,
free and slave,
to receive a mark on his right hand
or on his forehead,
so that no one could buy or sell
unless he had the mark,
which is the name of the beast
or the number of his name.
This calls for wisdom.
If anyone has insight,
let him calculate the number of the beast,
for it is man's number.
His number is 666."
If you live long enough, you're going to have to make a choice between job, career, money, property—or loyalty to Jesus. Satan is going to force you to choose. It's one of the strategies that he uses. Moses was tempted in that way. In Hebrews 11:24–26 we read,
"By faith Moses,
when he had grown up,
refused to be known
as the son of Pharaoh's daughter.
He chose to be mistreated along with
the people of God rather than to enjoy
the pleasures of sin for a short time.
He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ
as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward."
Moses had a choice of staying in Pharaoh's palace enjoying all the luxury that Egypt provide Pharaoh's family. He took his stand with God's people.
And so it has been at various times in history. In Hebrews 10:32–34 the Holy Spirit urged the Hebrew Christians to persevere and to recall how they had stood firm in the past. He said to them,
"Remember those earlier days
after you had received the light,
when you stood your ground
in a great contest in the face of suffering.
Sometimes you were publicly exposed
to insult and persecution;
at other times you stood side by side
with those who were so treated.
You sympathized with those in prison
and joyfully accepted
the confiscation of your property,
because you knew that you yourselves
had better and lasting possessions."
Notice how it says that they 'joyfully' accepted the confiscation of their property. They knew exactly what was at stake and they knew they were making the right choice.
Christians were persecuted in Nazi Germany. Even before the war the Nazis started policies of euthanasia and the killing of mentally handicapped people. Many German Christians criticized these Nazi policies. Some lost their jobs, some were imprisoned, others were hanged. The Nazis knew that the church of Jesus Christ could not tolerate its policies and they saw Christianity as something that had to go. (Richard Evans, The Third Reich at War, p. 547) They started persecuting Christianity and warned those on the fence to keep quiet or, they too, would be persecuted. Nazi Party members were urged to leave the church. (Evans, p. 550) Back then, one of the ways to get ahead—socially, economically and politically—was to join the Nazi Party. For Christians it was a clear choice, join with evil or oppose it.
That's always the choice. The Christians at Smyrna made the correct choice.
In light of this, what message did Jesus have for the Christians at Smyrna?
At first glance one of the things that Jesus tells them doesn't seem to be of much help.
He told them not to fear in spite of the fact that things were going to get worse before they get better.
They were poor, but that was just the beginning. Jesus said to them, (verse 10)
"Do not fear what you are about to suffer.
Behold, the devil is about
to throw some of you into prison,
that you may be tested,
and for ten days you will have tribulation.
Be faithful unto death,"
Not only can you lose your job for faithfulness to Jesus, you can lose your freedom, even your life.
Some TV preachers today will tell you that God wants you to be prosperous, that He doesn't want you to be poor, that all of you have to do is have faith, or send them money, and God will bless you with material riches.
Sorry, but God didn't tell that to the Christians at Smyrna. That wasn't His message to them. Quite the contrary, they were poor and Jesus told them that for a while, things were only going to get worse.
Now the questions is: why would Jesus tell them this, why would Jesus put them through the coming hardship? The Christians at Smyrna were faithful. They were only one of the two churches that Jesus didn't criticize. Why wouldn't Jesus bless them in the sense of sparing them from trouble. He did that for the church at Philadelphia. In Revelation 3:10 He said to the Christians at Philadelphia.
"Since you have kept
my command to endure patiently,
I will also keep you
from the hour of trial
that is going to come upon
the whole world to test those
who live on the earth."
We don't know why Jesus' plan was different for the church at Philadelphia than the church at Smyrna. God has different plans for different Christians. But we can learn two things from the fact that Jesus told the church at Smyrna that things were going to get worse before they got better.
First of all, it was to prepare them for the hardship that was coming.
If you're prepared for something, you can handle it a lot better.
In late October 1926 Harry Houdini was in Montreal to perform at the Princess Theatre. One of the things that Houdini was noted for was his ability to take a punch to the stomach. Some McGill University students went to his dressing room where one of them was drawing a likeness of Houdini. Jack Price tells what happened,
"the first-year McGill student asked Houdini whether it was true that punches in the stomach did not hurt him. Houdini remarked rather unenthusiastically that his stomach could resist much, though he did not speak of it in superlative terms. Thereupon he gave Houdini some very hammer-like blows below the belt, first securing Houdini's permission to strike him."
Houdini was hurt by the blows. He afterwards stated that he didn't have an opportunity to prepare for the blows by tightening his stomach muscles, as he didn't think the student would strike him as suddenly as he did. The blows are thought to have ruptured or aggravated an already malfunctioning appendix and Houdini died a few days later.
If you're prepared for something, it can help you endure it better. Jesus was preparing the Christians of Smyrna for the trial ahead of them.
As a Christian today you are to expect hardship. Expect persecution. Prepare yourself for it. View your possessions and your wealth as something that you only have temporary ownership of. Don't think that they're yours until you die. Don't view your retirement fund as something you will never let go of. Don't set your heart on them. Be prepared to lose all for Jesus if need be.
Secondly, Jesus told the Christians at Smyrna that things were going to get worse before they got better to show them the purpose for their existence.
Christians are on this earth to be faithful to Jesus till death.
We are not here to simply enjoy this life, to be free from trouble and hardship, to prosper materially and gain possessions.
No. We are here to be faithful to Jesus, to be witnesses for Him, to bring Him glory and honor by living for Him no matter what we go through. As the apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:9,
"But you are a chosen people,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people belonging to God,
that you may declare the praises
of him who called you out of darkness
into his wonderful light."
You'll remember how Jesus told His disciples in John 15:20,
"No servant is greater than his master.
If they persecuted me,
they will persecute you also."
You'll remember when we looked at chapter 1 I told you that our lives as described there in verse 9 is modeled after Jesus' existence as described in verse 5. Our lives are patterned after His.
What's interesting about the way that that Jesus introduces Himself to each of the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 is that
He introduces Himself to each of the churches in a way that harks back to John's vision of Him in chapter 1. Not only that, but the aspect of that vision that used in each church is particularly relevant to the needs of that church.
Consider His introduction here. We read, (Revelation 2:8)
"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."
Jesus introduces Himself to each church with reference to the vision that John had of him in chapter 1. He introduced Himself to the Ephesian church as the One who walked among the lampstands. This was particularly relevant to the Ephesian congregation because they had forsaken their first love and that sin was so great that unless they repented, Jesus, who knew their deeds, was going to remove their lampstand.
The way Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Smyrna is also particularly important. The church at Smyrna was facing persecution, they were even facing martyrdom. Jesus assures them that they have nothing to fear.
Jesus introduces Himself as the First and the Last—the sovereign and eternal God. He is the One who died and was raised to life.
Robert Mounce writes, (p. 74)
"The church at Smyrna was a persecuted church, so the letter comes from the sovereign One ('the First and the Last'…), who died and came to life again. As he was victorious over death, so they, too, can face martyrdom knowing that faithfulness is rewarded with eternal life."
G. K. Beale adds that Jesus', (Revelation, 239)
"rule over history provides a basis of comfort to the church…"
Our lives—where do they come from? How do they continue to exist? Most people today would say it was by eating and drinking and keeping ourselves safe. But Jesus' taught us differently. Satan said to him, (Matthew 4:3–4)
"If you are the Son of God,
tell these stones to become bread."
"It is written:
'Man does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes
from the mouth of God.'"
His Word is to be our food and drink. It is our life. We live because God sustains and upholds us. Our lives are in the hands of the sovereign and eternal God. If we are faithful to Jesus we have nothing to fear. We may die for our faith—but our Savior will be with us and raise us from the dead and give us the crown of life.
You see, if you are faithful to Jesus, you may be poor in terms of material things, you may lose everything for Him—but you are really rich, you have treasures in heaven.
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians.
This shows you that the only way to eternal life is to acknowledge Jesus and, if necessary, to suffer for Him.
In John 12:25–26 Jesus said,
"The man who loves his life will lose it,
while the man who hates his life
in this world will keep it for eternal life."
The man who loves his life will lose it. Right now that describes you. Don't turn your back on Jesus. If you do you'll be lost forever.