Tony Evans - The Faithfulness of an Overcomer
God has a major problem with part-time Christians who don't wanna be full-time saints, who want to identify when it comes to a blessing but not when it comes to a struggle, who want the benefits of heaven but not the trouble that heaven brings on earth. John the apostle writes to this second church, the church at Smyrna. Smyrna is located 35 miles north of our previous church, Ephesus, and it is a seaport town, a very well off, somewhat prestigious, but there was trouble in Smyrna. In verse 8, Jesus says to the pastor, the angel of the church, the one who's going to deliver the message, he says, "The first and the last, the one who was dead and alive says this". The phrase, "the first and the last," that phrase is used of Almighty God. In fact, in Isaiah 48, 12 and 13, he says, "I am the first and the last, the God who created heavens and earth".
So, when Jesus Christ declares himself in Revelation 2, verse 8, to be the first and the last, he's declaring himself to be God. So, he picks this Old Testament designation of God and applies it to himself. Now, we know he's applying it to himself because he says, "I was dead and now I'm alive". Well, God the Father didn't die. God the Son died. So, in that little phrase, Jesus speaks of both his deity and his humanity. He's the first and the last. He's God, but he died, so he's man. In fact, that is, as we've often said, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. The same one who died could rise from the dead because he is both the first and the last, God, and he's the one who died, man, but who's now alive. We explained last time that he now sits as the risen, ascended Christ.
So, you must learn to look at and relate to him now in his current status as the one in charge. It is to this person that we read the phrase, he says, "I know your tribulation. I know your trouble. I know what you're going through". If your world has been shaken today, he's aware of it, not only because he's omniscient, God, but because he's human, man. And so, he's got that dual reality of identification while transcending time and being involved in time. He says, "I know you got trouble". Now, let me give you the first category of trouble these believers were facing. This is Smyrna. The mountains around Smyrna look like a crown, a crown that a king would wear. They were shaped that way. Many of the buildings in Smyrna were built to reflect this mountain look of a crown. The reason why that is a big deal, if you lived in Smyrna, is because, as a Roman colony, they worship Caesar as lord. You had to recognize Caesar as god. Well, these Christians had another declaration: "Jesus is Lord".
That created a conflict with the Roman government. So, they were going through the pressure and oppression of not yielding to the governmental authority when it claimed the rights of deity. While everybody else was saying, "Caesar is lord," they were declaring, "No, Jesus is Lord". While we will recognize government and respect government, we won't bow to government, because Jesus, and not Caesar, is Lord. That created a problem, because once you rejected Caesar, you were now an enemy of the state. And as a result of that, there was confiscation of property. It says, "You are having trouble and you are poor".
Now, it's bad enough to have trouble, but it's sure enough bad when you have trouble and no money 'cause you can't afford to cover up your misery. See, one of the uses of money is to hide how messed up you feel. You can spend money on entertainment, you can spend money on parties, you can spend money on this and that to help cover up the trouble, tribulation, that you may be going through. Well, what they were facing in their declaration that Jesus is Lord was an impoverishment economically, the loss of something financially, because of their commitment to the risen, ascended Christ and their unwillingness to compromise that declaration in front of Rome that "You are not our God. Jesus is our God". So, they were spiritually rich. That's why he says in the next phrase, "You are rich". "You are rich because of your decision to be committed to me even though it's costing you a price tag". He's talking about the recognition of Jesus Christ as Lord in the face of a rejecting government.
And let me explain this real clear. We are getting to the place in America where if you publicly declare Jesus Christ is Lord, not the Democrats, not the Republicans, not the Congress, not the White House, Jesus Christ is Lord, and it is he that will make the final decisions for the church, not the government, we're living in a day when there's little respect for our faith, when religious freedom is in jeopardy, and regardless of which party you're for... that's not my point. My point is it ought to be clear, and there ought to be no mistakes about it, that our ultimate allegiance is not to Washington. It's to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. "So, I know the trouble you're facing. I know that you're on delicate territory now when you do not declare that Caesar is Lord, when you do not declare", and, in fact, unfortunately, many Christians and certainly the secular political world don't even really understand what's happening right now.
I told you this this summer. Let me remind you. 2 Chronicles chapter 15, verses 3 to 6. It says, "In those days there was no true God, no teaching priest, no law. There was no peace to him who went in, peace to him who came out. City rose up against city and nation rose up against nation". And then it says, "For God troubled them with every kind of distress". Now, if God is your problem, only God is your solution. If God is your problem, I don't care who you select. Kick me out your schools, kick me out your courts, kick me out of... you just gonna kick me out? Well, I'mma let you see what your country looks like when I go. He says, "I know your trouble. I know when you don't compromise at work, you might not get that promotion. I know when you don't compromise with your friends, you might not get that recognition," but that's the piece of your commitment you need to know about so that you're not shocked when it happens, so that you don't know where that came from. Says, "I know your trouble, and I know there is a price tag to full commitment to me".
I'm not talking about suffering because of you doing evil. That's one kind of suffering. I'm talking about when you trying to live for God, when you trying to proclaim Christ, when you try... and it's still going south. It had to pass through his fingers first, okay? One reason he does it is to humble us, 2 Corinthians 12, verse 7, to humble us. In other words, he wants to deal with something in our character that we either actually or potentially are headed toward. So, he allows something in our lives. Paul says, "God allowed a messenger of Satan, a thorn in the flesh". A thorn is something that pricks you, that irritates you. He calls it a messenger. He had a person in his life who was driving him nuts, an irritation. And he says, "I prayed to God to get rid of it, three times," and God says, "I will not get rid of the irritation that I allow the devil to put in your life. And the reason I'm not going to allow it is to humble you so that you don't think more of yourself than you ought to think". And he says, "My grace will be sufficient, and in your weakness, I'm gonna make you strong".
So, God didn't let it go right then, because he wanted to do something different in his life. But if you don't know that that's one of the reasons God allow you to suffer, all you gonna see are the pricks and not the purpose. He does that to humble us. Another reason he lets us, when we are seeking to live for him, is to use us. 2 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 4, Paul says, "In our affliction", we going through stuff. We trying to serve God, love God, please God, walk with God, and we are underneath affliction, suffering. He says, "God met us in our affliction", watch this, "so that we would now be able to comfort others who are in the same affliction".
So, God lets you go through stuff even though you're trying to please him and are publicly associated with him 'cause he has somebody else down the line who's gonna be going through what you are now going through, and he doesn't just want you to quote Bible verses. He doesn't just wanna say, "I'mma pray for you". He wants you to feel what they feel and emote where they emote, because you've been where they've been. He says, "I wanna use the comfort I give you in what I allowed you to go through". He does it for another reason: to grow us. James chapter 1, verses 2 to 4, says, "The testings of your faith is to develop you". He wants to take you to another level.
So, there is purpose in the pain if you're seeking to live for him publicly. I ain't talking about privately, ain't talking about in church. I'm talking about declaring out there Jesus is Lord, that he will allow people to come against you, people to reject you, people to talk about you as sure as you born. He will allow the people to scheme against you, he will allow people to politic against you, he will allow somebody else to get that promotion that you've been working hard because he has a reason. Oh, here's one: to deepen his reality in your life. Now, watch this. It's called in Philippians 3:10 the fellowship of his suffering. "Fellowship" means increased intimacy. And so, he does that to deepen the intimacy with his people. He says, "I know what you're going through. I know you're struggling right now". But he says, "It's even worse than that. I know", verse 9, "the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan".
Oh, wait a minute. He started with the secular world. Now he says you get in trouble from the religious world. Synagogue, that's a place of worship. These were the Jews who rejected Christ, who were now persecuting the Christians. These are church folk who reject you because you've taken your stand for Jesus Christ. Just 'cause they in church don't mean they right. Just 'cause they in church, carrying a Bible under their arm, 'cause these Jews were carrying the Old Testament, just 'cause they carrying a Bible under their arm doesn't mean they committed. He goes on to say, oh, I like this, "Do not fear," mm, 'cause you can get scared when you're hurting because of your faith. "Are they gonna accept me? Are they gonna like me? Are they gonna befriend me? Are they gonna work with me? Are they gonna? Are they gonna? Are they gonna? Are they gonna"? I'm talking about appropriately but clearly representing the faith. He says, "Do not fear".
Now, why'd he tell 'em, "Do not fear"? 'Cause he said, "it's getting ready to get worse". Ooh, see, see, I lost my amens right there. It's getting ready to get worse. He says, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer". And he already told 'em, "You're suffering". He says, "Well, something else coming". He says, "Behold the devil is about to cast some of you in prison so that you will be tested and you will have tribulation for ten days". He said, "So, some of y'all are going to jail". In fact, some of you here may feel like you're in jail, a circumstance you can't get out of, a suffering you can't get away from, and you feel like, "I am in prison". He said it's gonna worse. And then he tells you, "But don't fear. Don't fear". "Well, wait a minute. I'm already struggling, You're telling me if I keep my public identity with you, it's gonna get worse? And then you tell me, 'Don't be scared'? Come on, man. How am I gonna deal with that"? He says, "Don't be afraid, because you will undergo some trouble for ten days".
In other words, "I got my hand on the clock. I'm gonna allow it, but I'm also gonna determine when it's gonna end". So, watch this, if God says in ten days it's gonna be over, you wanna make sure you done. "And Satan is on a leash and I done given him ten days to do his stuff for me to do in you what I want you to do, but at ten days, I'm jerking that sucker back, 'cause he's not just the devil. He my devil, and I use him as I please. If you don't believe me, ask Job. He my devil. I tell him how far he can go and how far he can't go and how long he can stay there 'cause I am the sovereign God and I am in charge. So, you make sure you identify with me". This is not a time for weak-kneed Christians. This is not a day for silly saints. This is a day for men and women who name the name of Jesus Christ to name the name of Jesus Christ and do-not-vary saints.
That's why I like the three Hebrew boys: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Nebuchadnezzar gets the big head. Nebuchadnezzar gets the big head. And Nebuchadnezzar says, "I want everybody in my kingdom of Babylon to bow. Everybody bow before me". Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, "Now, okay, we gonna respect you, okay. Let it be known", 'cause the king had said, "Anybody that doesn't bow, we're gonna put in the fiery furnace," okay? Three Hebrew boys said, "Okay, let it be known to you today that we will not bow. We'll serve you, we'll give you", 'cause they were in the employment of the king.
"So, we'll give you the best of our time, the best of our energy, but hitting our knees? Oh, no, no, we ain't doing that. And as to your threat that you gonna fire us, as to your threat, our God", watch this, watch this next phrase, "whom we serve... not our God who we talk about in church, not our God who we just reference every now and then, our God who we continually serve, this ain't new. We ain't just bringing up this today. We have been serving him while we've been working in the secular government, but our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from your fiery furnace. Oh, King, you may be in charge, but you're not the final word. Even if he does not", even if I lose the job, lose the raise, lose the contract, lose the recognition, "even if he does not, let it be known to the king this day, we will not bow. We gonna make that clear".
So, the king is hot now 'cause they ain't doing what he told 'em to do, and he their boss, but he's asking 'em to make him lord. They can't do that. So, they all put in the fire. Put in the fire. They made it seven times hotter, 'cause he was so hot he made the fire hotter. He comes to the glass in the furnace. He looks at the fire burn. "Whoa," he asks his boys, "how many people we put in there"? "Oh, King, you put in three people: Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego". "Well, I'm looking through this glass right now, and I'm seeing four folk. There's Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, and there's another dude in there like the Son of God walking around".
Now, here it is. Here it is. Watch this, watch this. This is what I like about it. Before they put them in the fire, they bound them, hand and foot, but when the king looked in and saw them, it says they were walking around in the fire. They bound them up, but they walking. So, I'm here to tell you, make Jesus Lord. That does not always mean he will deliver you from, but it does mean he'll join you in. And if he joins you in, there's victory even in the fire. "So, what do you want? What do you want from me, Lord"? Here he tells you at the end of verse 10 "I want you to be faithful unto death". That's the message. "I want you, if you're gonna be an overcomer, to be faithful until the end. Until this life is over, I want you to go all the way for me".
Faithfulness is dependability regardless of circumstances. It says, "Be faithful unto death in your commitment to me and your living underneath my Lordship, and if you do, I will give you", verse 10 says, "the crown of life. I will give you a crown. You in a privileged position. I'mma give you the recognition. I'mma give you the notoriety that it looks like you gave up because of your commitment to me. I'm gonna give you the crown of life". And he closes by saying, "He who has an ear, let him hear", okay, everybody who's paying attention this morning, "what the Spirit says to the churches". And then he speaks to you as an individual. "He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death".
Now, that is a curious phrase. "He who overcomes", what does he mean by overcoming? He who overcomes the temptation to abandon your confession during tough times, he who overcomes the temptation to walk away because things have gotten rough because of your faith, the overcomers will not be hurt by the second death. Now, the reason why that's a curious phrase is that the second death refers to hell. Bible says "hell is cast into the lake of fire, and that is the second death". So, that's hell. But wait a minute. He's talking to Christians here. These are believers who are suffering. So, they not going to hell. They going to heaven. Don't let folk who are going down keep you from maximizing going up. Don't let them do that. "Your commitment must be to me". And when you fail, dust off, confess, repent, get up, and go on the road to faithfulness.
Don't throw in the towel. Don't quit. And if we are not developing those kinds of Christians as a church, we failed, because our job isn't to have church. Our job is to create disciples who are not ashamed to say "Jesus Christ is Lord". So, you don't quit. If you're going through a tough time and you are living for Christ... if you're not living for Christ, that's a whole different story, that's getting right, but if you have made the decision, "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back," you've made it known. Everybody understands that that's who you are, because when God comes through for you, when God, even if it's letting you know he's there, you will discover that greater is he that's in you in the fire than he that's in the world.