Jack Graham - No Fear
If you will begin finding Revelation chapter 2, let me remind you that these 7 churches are real churches, historically connected, they were really multi-site campuses. 7 churches at multi-locations around the Aegean Sea, surrounded by Ephesus and the Greek Isles there. And the overseer of these churches was primarily John the beloved, the follower of Jesus, the apostle, one of Jesus' closest companions. He is the last man standing, all the other apostles apparently are dead. But John was preserved, in fact historic tradition tells us there was one occasion in which they attempted to boil John in oil but he miraculously escaped death. But he was an enemy of the state, considered and enemy of the state because of his Christian faith, as he described it for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus he was exiled at a place called Patmos, an Alcatraz of it's day, a rocky island where he would spend the rest of his days.
He's an old man now, in his 90's and it appeared to be the end of his days and yet God gave him this glorious vision of the future and we talked about that in our last message. He is in the spirit on the Lord's Day, that was Sunday, by now Christians had moved from Sabbath worship (Saturday), to the Lord's Day (the first day of the week). So in keeping with his commitment to worship, even though he is alone, he's in the Spirit, that is he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he's worshiping on the Lord's Day.
So think about this: He's exiled on this island, and the people that he loved, his church, his brothers and sisters in Christ are far away and he misses them. He missed his family. He missed the church because the goal of every Christian is to love Christ and love the church. Love Christ, love the church. And he did. And so on that worship day he had his mind on the Lord, but he also was thinking about the churches. Because many of these beloved brothers and sisters in Christ were suffering for their faith. At some level we will all suffer. Now the specific kind of suffering that we're talking about today is suffering as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ; Christians who suffer as a result of their bold and fearless proclamation of the Gospel. And there are Christians who are suffering in the world today for their faith. I mean really suffering.
Here in America we face some opposition and as our country becomes more and more secular, I think we're seeing more and more hostility to the Christian faith and biblical faith and we'll see more of that, but it's very rare if ever in the United States that there's any real physical persecution. But around the world Christians are dying for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! Now 1 Corinthians 12:26 says "If one member suffers, we all suffer together". Let me just give you some numbers and please don't let these numbers numb you to the pain that people are experiencing. Sometimes I think we see so much pain in media in news reports around the world that we lock down. But listen to this and let it sink in: Currently over 200 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide every year. 170,000 Christians die for their faith each year; that's over 400 a day. Christians are persecuted in 131 in the world's 193 countries.
The worse eras for Christian martyrs was during the first and fourth centuries at the hands of the Romans, and this is the setting of the book of Revelation that we have, and the most in history is now equal to that. Above that. Our own era, because the twentieth century saw more Christian martyrs than all previous centuries combined, and it is estimated that by 2025 we will see some 210 million believers dying for their faith each year. Often at the hands of religious extremists, Islamic extremists primarily. And so we must pray for people who are suffering for Jesus Christ. Revelation 2, beginning at verse 8: "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: 'The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. "I know your tribulation"'". That means I know by experience. Not just I know about, but I know, I'm there, I'm with you. "I know your tribulation". The word means pressure, extreme pressure, to be crushed, to be dominated. "I know your tribulation, your poverty"...
Again, the word doesn't mean just that you don't have enough money at the end of the month, it means abject poverty. It's a word which means decimated. You are impoverished, "'(but you are rich) and the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear'", there's our title, "'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.'" Oh, there's more to come. Perhaps they were waiting for a message that: This is nearly over: you've been in trouble, you've been tested, you've been in the fire, you've been suffering. Okay, it's over. Jesus said, "No, more to come"! "'Be faithful unto 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. To the one who conquers, you will not be hurt by the second death.'"
We don't know a lot about this church at Smyrna. Wish I had more time to tell you what we do know. I can tell you that it's only mentioned here in the Bible. Never mentioned on any of Paul's missionary journeys. We don't know how this church came to be, how it was planted, how it became a church, but we know it was planted and existed in a very dangerous place. Smyrna. Interestingly enough, the word Smyrna is akin to the word myrrh. You remember myrrh. When the wise men came, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It was a spice, and apparently it was common there in Smyrna and this is how Smyrna got its name, Smyrna, myrrh. And it means bitter. And interestingly enough, in view of the suffering and the crushing experience of these Christians here, the fragrance, the oil could never be removed from the myrrh until it was crushed, until it was squeezed.
And so here at Smyrna Christians were being squeezed. It was an idolatrous city, Smyrna. Apparently there was some kind of contest in the ancient world as to who would win the rights, sort of like naming a football stadium, who would win the rights to erect a temple that would be dedicated in that part of the world to the worship of the Caesars. And for some reason Smyrna won. And in that temple it was required that you place incense and cry out "Caesar is lord". And if you refused to confess Caesar as lord, go to the temple, put in your incense and make this proclamation, then you were in big trouble. You would be arrested, you would be exiled, perhaps executed-put to death, because you refused to pay homage to the maniacal dictator Domitian. Smyrna is today among the islands surrounding the Aegean Sea and Asia Minor, and it is in Izmir, Turkey today.
I met a gentleman after the service this morning, one of our newest members who was stationed in Izmir, Turkey as a U. S. Air Force soldier. And so it's still there today but it used to be called Smyrna. It was a dangerous place. Just think about one of the most dangerous, in your own mind what would be the most dangerous place on earth today? A place where you wouldn't want to go. There's a travel advisory there. You've heard of the murders, you've heard of the mayhem, you've heard of the martyrdom, all the rest, the terrorists, and so on. Just imagine one of the most dangerous places on earth and that is Smyrna. And in the midst of that danger Jesus established His church, but He didn't forget them. He said, "I know what you're going through". And really there's two simple points to this message today. Here they are: It costs to serve Jesus and it pays to serve Jesus.
Let me show you what I mean by that. Well, it does cost to serve Jesus. There's a cross to bear. Some people conveniently forget to speak of the demands of discipleship and the call to the cross. It's all about health and wealth and being happy. But Jesus spoke of persecution. He said in Matthew chapter 5:10-12, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for so persecuted the prophets who were before you". Jesus said in John chapter 15:18-20, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you are off the world the world would love you as its own, but because you are not of the world, (you've come out of the world, that is), but I chose you out of the world, therefore, the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me they will persecute you".
Jesus said, John 16:33, "I said these things to you that you will have peace. But in the world you will have tribulation". Tribulation for the cause of Christ. Again, this is not suffering at a human level. We all face suffering at a human level. We all suffer from time to time. We're sick and we suffer. There's heartache and we suffer; there's pain, we suffer. And that suffering is real and God has a word to suffering people of all kinds. But specifically this message in the passage is directed for those who are persecuted, suffering for the cause of Christ. And these brothers and sisters were going through hell. They were ostracized, put out, put in prison, they were condemned, they were exiled, they were put to death, they were impoverished. All of the above. And they suffered as a result of their bold and fearless witness. They were crushed because of what they believed. He said, "You are impoverished, but you're rich".
You see, not only does it cost to serve Jesus in every generation. The Apostle Paul said all who live godly in Jesus Christ will suffer persecution. The only way as a Christian you won't be persecuted at some level, opposed at some level is if you're compromised. If you're compromised as a Christian you'll probably be just fine. You won't face much flack. But you stand for Christ and more and more you're going to find that there will be persecution. You will be slandered; you will be talked about. And I personally believe we need to prepared this generation for more hostility which is yet to come. But here's the thing: some of you are suffering today for some reason.
And you wonder "when is this ever going to end? When's it ever going to be over"? Cause you know in every trial, in every test, there's a start and there's an end and there's sometimes a real long middle. And the problem is we most often don't know when it's ending. This is why when Jesus said to this church, the devil is going to throw you into prison. Oh by the way, that's the source of all of this. The devil's going to throw you into prison. This is coming from the synagogue of Satan. Ephesians 6:12, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and rulers of the darkness". Our battle is a spiritual battle! He said, "The devil is going to throw you into prison for ten days".
Now that ten days, there's a lot of fanciful interpretations as to what the ten day means, but I believe it simply means that it has a start and an end. That it will be for a certain selected period of time. And that's good news for all of us, isn't it? That at the end of suffering, at the end of pain we will be strengthened. You see there's a mystery regarding suffering. Many times we don't know why we suffer. Many times we don't know why others suffer. As a pastor, I've seen it through the years, and it's heartbreaking. And you can't always explain suffering. In fact most of the time you can't explain suffering! There's a mystery. The Scripture speaks of the mystery of iniquity; why God allows this evil to exist, why God allows this pain and so on. But we do know this, that suffering is a misery, it's a mystery, but it's a ministry, and that ministry is to strengthen us in our faith.
James 1:2-4: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing". This is a verse that I've claimed many times, 1 Peter 5:9 and 10: "Resist him firm in the faith, knowing that the sane kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world, and after you have suffered a little while". Satan's on a leash, God's leash. Martin Luther called Satan God's Satan. Satan is limited; he's on a leash! "And after a little while the God of all grace who has called you to the eternal glory in Christ will Himself (love this) restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you".
So you're going through some tough times? Are you suffering? Broken relationships, broken bodies, broken minds, broken hearts, you're being crushed in some way? God's got it. In fact He begins this letter by saying, "I am the first and the last, the one who went to the grave and came back again. Therefore be faithful unto death". Yes, suffering may end in death. You may die. In fact, we're all going to die. But there's no need to fear death if you're a Christian. There's no need to fear death. Why? Because He's "the resurrection and the life". He said, "He who believes in Me, though he be dead, yet shall he live". He said, "I'm the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End". He's the great I AM. And there's no part of your future that He hasn't already been there! His presence is waiting for you. When He says, "I know what you're going through".
Again, that's just not theoretically, not God way in the distance knowing. He's with you! He said, "there's never a place, a time in your life, no matter what you go through, life and death, I will not be with you". "I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end, I am the risen Christ". Therefore He says, don't be afraid. We all have natural apprehension in life, we all battle the ideas of fear and anxiety. That's why God gives us so many "fear nots" in the Bible. It's the most repeated phrase in the Scripture. Don't be afraid, don't be afraid, don't be afraid! Sometimes we tell our children when their afraid, don't be afraid, but they're afraid, and you know what they need? They need our presence. They need us to hold them close and say, "Honey, don't be afraid".
And that's what our Father does for us. He doesn't just stand somewhere in heaven and say don't be afraid. He's not just making a pronouncement to rebuke us, but He's saying "don't be afraid", why? "Because I'm with you. I'm here my darling child". So there's no fear. We can be fearless in the face of anything, so be faithful. "I'm coming with the crown of life". The crown of life, you see that there? He said, "I've got a crown of life to give to you". This is why He said, "You're really rich! You're rich in reward. You may not have money, but far better to have wealth there than to have it here and here alone! Lay up treasures in heaven"! He said, "Be rich in the things of God! You're rich! And I'm coming with a crown of life".
You know the crown of life is the victor's crown. And we're going to take our crowns and lay them at Jesus' feet and worship Him forever! So whatever you experience in life, pain and suffering, it costs to serve Jesus, and especially if you suffer because of your faith, and pay the price. There is a price to pay. But it pays to serve Jesus! It pays everyday! It pays every step of the way. The old Gospel song said it: It will be worth it all when we see Jesus! It will. You can't preach this message about Smyrna without talking about Smyrna's pastor, a man by the name of Polycarp. Polycarp was mentored by John the Disciple, the Revelator. He was a second generation believer. He's considered one of the early church fathers.
Polycarp, pastor at Smyrna, pastor at the bitter place, at the dangerous place. Polycarp was born in 70AD, and he led the church in Smyrna for many years, but he was martyred on February 23, 155AD. He was actually arrested as a Christian, was prosecuted as a Christian, and was given a chance to recant, to renounce his faith and pay tribute to Caesar. They said, "Old man, we don't want to kill you here, but we're going to kill you unless you through in the incense and say 'Caesar is lord.' So do us all a favor and deny Christ". So what did the old gentleman say? Listen to what he said: "Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saves me"? He was then threatened once more as being burned at the stake, and he said, "You threaten me with the fire that burns for a time and is quickly quenched. For you, do you not know that the fire which awaits the wicked in the judgment to come is to everlasting punishment"?
That's not user-friendly preaching, but you get the point, right? Why are you waiting? Come! Do what you will! He said, "Bring it, but I'm not going to deny Jesus". And history tells us that Polycarp died praising God, his life enveloped in the flame, but in the next moment, the crown of life. Be faithful even unto death. And until then live with eternity in perspective, in your focus. You keep your eyes on Jesus. Not on the pain, not on the problems, not on the struggles, not on the suffering. Do your best by God's grace to lift up your heart, your mind, and like John in the spirit on the Lord's Day, see Jesus and His promise to you. And tell as many people possible of your love for Him.