I need the message to the persecuted church of Smyrna. Jesus has no rebuke for them. They were poor but rich! They did not cling to comfort but to God — and power was released.
I love my quiet home with its controlled temperatures, smooth sheets, and fancy coffee machine. I gravitate toward comfort and away from suffering.
Suffering scares me.
How unlike my Lord, who set His face like flint toward the cross.
In a past blog post I wrote:
“God has a wonderful plan for our lives, but it may include martyrdom.”
Our own Laura-Dancer responded: “I don’t think I’m up for it.”
I understand. (And Laura, just wait til you get to lesson 13 for very good news!)
So, how do we prepare our hearts for suffering? For, indeed, God uses suffering not only to awaken unbelievers but to refine believers. Suffering is part of His good plan for He has eternity in mind, whereas we tend to be so focused on this life.
It seems He is removing His protective hand from the cushy western evangelical world. While we thought America and its freedoms would last indefinitely, history proves that “an empire” in man’s eyes is an “episode” in God’s eyes.
We are not liked anymore. One poll found most Americans would prefer not to have an evangelical neighbor. Some of that is deserved when we do not love our neighbors well, but some of it comes from the clash that standing for truth causes in a world deceived by Satan. We are now seen as hateful bigots. Teachers, nurses, bakers, authors, and scientists taking a stand for truth are experiencing genuine loss, as so many of you expressed last week.
We are in the first stage of persecution which historically moves from “We don’t want your ideas” to “We don’t want you.”
How are we going to react?
Compromise? Leave the church? As Revelation shows us “the church” is God’s plan. There is no Plan B. But for the first time in American history church members are in the minority. (34% according to a recent poll.) In my daughter’s city of Albany, N. Y., only 9% identify as Christians. The pressure is on us to conform, to blend in, to avoid any cost or loss of comfort.
The message to the church at Smyrna is a message to us. Christ saw that suffering was around the corner for them and wanted to prepare them to stand firm. One of John’s disciples was Polycarp, born in AD 65, was a leader in Smyrna, and was martyred in AD 155. He obviously listened with his whole heart to this message, for his martyrdom made history. This is what he said before being burned at the stake (he would not let them tie him, he said Christ would help him stay.)
Last week we looked at Ephesus where John had been a bishop for many years. This week we will cover Smyrna and next week, Pergamum. Here is a map so you can see how close these three cities were:
Here is a link to an optional movie based on Polycarp’s life. While there are fictional characters to fill in what we don’t know, it accurately portrays what we do know, with actual quotes from the writings of Polycarp. Both Polycarp of Smyrna and Antipas of Pergamum were disciples of John who were martyred because they refused emperor worship. I recommend it, because, like The Chosen, it gives us a real feel for that era.
Here is a link to the Tim Keller sermon on Smyrna from Monergism which we will discuss. If this link does not work, go directly to www.monergism and you can find it on the 2nd page of sermons on Revelation 2.
And finally, here is a link to a short Francis Chan video that gets to the heart of the message given to prepare Smyrna for suffering:
Word Document Homework
Sunday: Getting Started
- What stands out to you from the above and why?
- What has helped you move out of a comfort zone and into risky territory for Jesus? Be specific.
Monday: The First and the Last, who died and came to life again
3. Read Revelation 2:8-11 aloud to yourself, then meditate, then share what stands out to you.
4. Now, read Revelation 2:8-9 and answer:
A. To whom is the letter addressed? (Rev. 2:8)
B. How is Jesus described and why might this be relevant to Smyrna?
C. For what are they commended? (Rev 2:9) How is this the opposite of Laodicea? (Rev. 3:17)
D. There is no rebuke to Smyrna, only promises. Find them.
5. How can worldly poverty and suffering make you rich? How has it refined you?
6. In the beginning of the church, Jews and Christians were closely aligned, but that has changed by the time John is writing. Jews are actually turning Christians in for not worshipping the emperor. What does Jesus say about them in verse 9b?
7. In Mystery Explained, read the rest of what Dr. Campbell writes under The Church at Smyrna and share what stands out to you.
Tuesday: The True Gospel is Not One of Prosperity or Ease
Joni Earickson Tada wrote: God’s purpose is not to make us healthy, wealthy, or even happy, though it pleases Him to do so — but to make us holy.
8. Read the rest of Dr. Campbell’s second paragraph concerning The Church at Smyrna and share the main points.
9. Read Revelation 2:10-11
A. What does Jesus tell them they are about to suffer and why?
B. What does “ten days” mean? (We know it isn’t literal, but still, meant to give hope.)
C. What promises are given to those who are faithful?
Wednesday/Thursday Keller Sermon
One of you told me the link does not work — so please go to www.monergism.com to find it. It is on the 2nd page of sermons on Revelation 2. That’s where you can get it for free.
10. Listen to the Keller sermon above and share your comments and notes. You can break it up into two days.
Friday: The Prosperity Gospel
One of the ways Satan has twisted the gospel is with what we have come to call “The Prosperity Gospel,” which teaches that as children of the King, we should have wealth, health, and happiness. I do recommend the program that goes with this trailer on Netflix. (For those who have printed off this lesson you can find it by going to YouTube and typing in American Gospel: Official Trailer.) Please watch this trailer and share your comments. (You can find the whole program on You-Tube if you like.)
11. What lies do you hear? How would you combat them with the truth of Scripture?
12. How is the Spirit of the Living God showing you how to apply this week’s lesson to your life?