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Well, let’s take our Bibles and turn to Revelation chapter two and verse eighth. I’m coming for a second look but not a final look at the church of Smyrna.
If you’re with us this morning as a first time visitor, we want to especially welcome you and just let you know that the modus operandi of this church and this pulpit is to work verse by verse, expositionally through either a section of God’s Word or a whole book. At the moment, we’re in an extended series on Revelation one to three, the seven letters of our Lord to the churches in Asia. We’ve entitled the series You’ve Got Mail, and we’re looking at the Second Letter here. We started to look at it last week under the title Stand Your Ground. This morning we’re coming back to take another look at it and we’ll finish it up next Sunday morning.
This is a letter addressed to a church under pressure. This is a letter addressed to a persecuted people who are being called by Christ to suffer for the gospel’s sake. Revelation two verse eight: “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, These things says the Fitst and the Last who was dead and came to life, I know your works, tribulation and poverty, but you are rich and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are of a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you in the prison, that you may be tested. And you will have tribulation 10 days. Be faithful onto 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. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.'”
I was thinking about this. I think that when you and I get to a point where we’re pointing someone to the Lord Jesus Christ, encouraging them to become a follower of him, at that moment we need to issue a spiritual health warning. Like the government puts on a cigarette package, we need to issue the potential follower of Jesus Christ, a spiritual health warning. We need to tell them that Christianity could kill you, that Christianity could involve actual bodily harm. At the least, it may involve the loss of favor and friends. You may be rejected or even ejected from society. That’s what’s involved in coming to the Lord Jesus Christ for he who went to the cross for us, tells us to leave his cross with our own cross that we might follow him even to the point of death and certainly on a regular basis to the point of denial.
That’s certainly how the gospel was presented to a young girl called Helen Roseveare. She came to Christ under the ministry of Dr. Graham Scroggie a famous British preacher, and the night she came to Christ, Dr. Scroggie wrote in the fly leaf of her Bible: “Philippians three verse 10.” And he said: “You know what? Tonight the journey has begun. You have begun to know Him, you’ve begun to know Christ.” But he went on because that verse goes on to say that we might know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. And he says: “I trust that there lies ahead of you a greater experience of Christ where in knowing him you’ll come to know more of the power of his resurrection.”
He was a rather tall and upright man. At this point he bends down and he speaks gently to this young girl who has just professed faith in Christ and he finishes with these words: “Maybe one day God will give you the privilege to know something of the fellowship of his son’s sufferings.” Helen Roseveare in an interview with Justin Taylor from Desiring God Ministries in Minneapolis, looking back on that night, says to Justin Taylor in an interview: “I’d been a Christian half an hour and I was told that it was a privilege to suffer for Jesus.”
When we’re pointing someone to Christ, we need to issue a spiritual health warning. In fact, Helen Roosevelt joined WAC, a missionary organization and during the fifties, sixties and seventies she ministered for Christ in the Congo. In the mid-sixties, she was caught up in a civil war and rebels in invaded her missionary camp, took her prisoner for five months. She was repeatedly beaten and raped and she learned the privilege of suffering for the Lord Jesus Christ.
You and I could go on repeating those kind of stories, which reminds us of the fact, a fact that we underscored an underlined last week, that suffering is the hallmark of true Christianity. The New Testament is unequivocal in its communication of the fact that suffering is part of the package of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 15:20, he says: “They persecuted me, they will persecute you.” In Philippians chapter one verse 29, we’re told: “It is not only granted unto us to believe on him but to suffer for his name’s sake.”
In fact, Ignatius, the early church martyr, reminded us, didn’t he, that in suffering we truly begin to become a Christian. If we’re going to follow Christ, we’re going to have to fellowship with Christ and in some cases fellowshipping with Christ involves the sharing of his suffering. Now, suffering is not a word that modern Christian Church readily associates with coming to Christ. As far as the modern evangelical church is concerned today, you don’t have to surrender anything, even your preferences. Whatever your needs, whatever your tastes, whatever your fancy, there’s a church tailor-made for you and the pastor will promise never to preach on money and he’ll certainly make a commitment never to bring up the subject of sin lest you feel guilty.
The idea of sacrifice and surrender is a shadow on the wall of most modern church buildings. The average evangelical in America doesn’t ask what they can do for the church. They come and ask what the church can do for them. But that’s to turn Christianity on its head. That’s an inverted, perverted form of biblical Christianity. “If any man will come after me…” Jesus said what? “… let him take up his cross and follow me. And if he doesn’t do it, he cannot be my disciple.” Suffering is involved in following Christ and we see this in Revelation chapter two, in verse eight. Here was a church that was called to lose their life for Christ, but thank God we are reminded here also that if we’ll lose our life, we’ll find it.
Whatever they lost on their earthly journey in pilgrimage for Christ, there is the promise that on the other side of things they will gain a crown of life and they will not be hurt by the second death. Jesus calls these disciples in Smyrna to stand their ground. So let’s learn how to stand our ground. Let’s learn something of the call to suffer for Jesus Christ in the call to follow Him.
Last week we looked at the fact that there is no condemnation, no censorship in this letter and we came to understand that that’s the case because this was a church that faced persecution and you’ll find if you study church history or you talk to Dr. Zimba or you travel across the world, you’ll find that where the church is persecuted, the church is pure because if it’s going to cost you something to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re hardly going to be a hypocrite and the wheat is separated from the chaff.
We looked at the city and saw that it was geographically situated 35 miles north of Ephesus. We looked at the fact that culturally it was a renowned city of a growing population. It was known for its beautiful buildings, its libraries, its state-of-the-art sports stadiums. Homer was born there. Historically, it had indeed been conquered and obliterated but had come back like the phoenix from the ashes and was reborn a number of centuries before the writing of this letter. And religiously, we saw it was a city marked by paganism and polytheism. It was the center of emperor-cult worship. Every year, all the citizens of Smyrna had to go to a smoking altar and drop a pinch of incense into the altar and cry: “Caesar is Lord!” That proved a difficult thing for Christians to do since they had signed up to obedience and allegiance to one and one only, the Lord Himself, Jesus Christ.
We saw that the church in the city was probably brought to birth because of the reverberations of the Day of Pentecost, and how we read in Acts chapter two in verse nine “many had come from Asia.” There is the possibility that there was a church plant out of Ephesus. Either way, here you have this church in this city, embattled, besieged and Jesus is saying: “Look, I know you’re up against it, but stand your ground. Do not be a free,” at verse 10, “of the things which you are about to suffer. The devil is about to throw some of you in prison that you may be tested. You’re going to have tribulation for 10 days, but be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life. Overcome and you won’t be touched by the second death.”
Three things I want to say, we’ll look at two of them this morning and we’ll leave some for next Sunday morning. You’ve got a outline provided for you in your bulletin and trust you’ll take some notes. Three things: we want to see their savior, we want to see their suffering and we want to see their steadfastness.
Let’s look at their savior. We have painted in the background but let’s not miss the foreground. The foreground is even more important than the background. Look at the beginning of this letter: “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna, These things says the First and the Last who was dead and came to life.” Their attention is immediately drawn to the one who stands and moves amidst the churches in Asia. Whatever else they saw or were confronted by, they were encouraged to get their eyes on Christ, their sovereign savior. His presence on the inside would enable them to deal with any pressure on the outside. Amen?
The message that comes to that church is that while Domitian and the Roman authorities may be beating down their door, that Christ, the sovereign savior, stands among them and stands with them. And if God is for them, it really doesn’t matter who is against them. When they understand that Christ is on the inside, that will help them to deal with whatever’s happening on the outside.
I think that does remind us that the fear of God drives out the fear of man. Jesus says to them what? He says this: “Don’t be afraid. Fear not for the things that you’re about to suffer. Get your eyes on me. Give me my proper due.” What is the fear of God? It is to take God seriously. It is to take proper account of God in all manners of life. It’s to view things from the perspective of his greatness and his glory and the reason we fear man so much and we fear the things that we encounter in life so often is because we fear God so little. We fear man so much because we fear God so little. But if this church can grasp who’s on the inside, it’ll help them stand their ground when they look at what’s happening on the outside.
I think I have shared before that incident in the gospels in Mark chapter four, verse 35 through 41, Jesus gets into the boat with his disciples. They’re crossing the sea of Galilee. They’re caught in a sudden and violent storm and the disciples get all upset. The Lord Jesus is sleeping. They wake him and say: “Don’t you care? Don’t you see what’s going on? Get a bucket. Start bailing.” And Jesus chastises them. He tells the wind and the waves to be still. You know what’s interesting? At the end of that passage in Mark chapter four, I think verse 40, it says that after that, here’s what it says: “And they became exceedingly fearful.”
They were more frightened of who was in the boat than who was outside, what was happening outside the boat. And when you and I grasp the awesome and fearsome presence of God, which is the blessing of the child of God through the immediate and indwelling ministry of the Spirit of God. If we fear God like that, if we give God his proper due, it really doesn’t matter when the wind howls and the waves crash into our little boats. They see their savior, notice two things about their savior. He describes Himself as the First and the Last and “He who was dead and came to life.” Christ wants them to focus on his sovereignty over life and his supremacy over death. What a savior. His sovereignty over life, his supremacy over death. Notice this self-description: he’s the First and he’s the Last. You’ll find that back in chapter one verse 17. When John encounters the risen radiant Christ, he falls down as a dead man. Christ puts his hand on him, says, “John, don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am he who lives and was dead, but I’m alive forever more.” This self-description speaks of Christ’s deity and his dominion.
You’ll find in Isaiah 41, in verse four, in Isaiah 44 and verse six, that God in the Old Testament discloses Himself and describes Himself as the First and the Last. The God of Israel is the First and the Last. There is no God beside Him, beyond Him, below Him, above Him. And so this description of the Lord Jesus is the Lord Jesus Christ taking to Himself the title of deity. Because the Lord Jesus Christ, while fully man, was wholly God. And listen to this: whatever you can say about God, you can say about Jesus. It’s a great statement. Whatever you can say about God, you can say about Jesus. Jesus is reminding his church that he has equal authority and power to that of God because he is God. He’s not a derivation of God, He’s fully God. He’s not a part, not a piece of God. He’s the Godhead in bodily form according to the Book of Colossians.
But this not only speaks of his deity, it speaks of his dominion. He’s not only the God who inhabits eternity, he’s the one who rules over time and space and all living matter. Jesus is saying here in this description that He’s the First and the Last, that he was there at the sunrise of creation and that he will be there at the sunset of creation. Over in John’s gospel in the prologue, what do we read in verse one? “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God,” that’s Christ. “All things were made through him and without him nothing was made. Christ was there when the sun began to rise in that first day and the clock of history began to tick, and the pages of the human story began to be turned. He was there at the sunrise of creation and he will be there at the sunset of creation.
Over in Revelation chapter 22, as John describes the end of time, of the beginning of a new world, we read of Jesus. “Behold, I come quickly and My reward is with me to give to every man according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” Now, hang on to this because this will come with a wallop to these believers. Everything passes through Christ’s hands. Everything finds permission in Christ’s will. He is the brackets of history and the book-ends of life.
Now, what’s significant about that? Well, if you were here last week, you’ll remember that the city of Smyrna liked that title first. Remember, we said some of their coins were embossed with the words “The first in beauty and size in Asia.” Remember, they were in a competition with the 11 other cities to become the place where the first temple outside of Rome was built in honor of the Emperor Tiberius. The word “first” had a lot to do with the city of Smyrna. I think it’s particularly relevant and reassuring to this church housed in this city that they’re being reminded in a city that sees itself as first and increasingly wants Christians to come in last, Jesus reminds them that he is the last word and he will have the last laugh. And their ultimate victory is bound up in his sure triumph on a future day and to the battered body of believers, Christ was saying that he would be with them from the start of this painful experience through to the end and he would ensure their final victory. Amen?
Some of you started an experience, a painful one, a difficult one just recently. Your life turned in a certain direction. Listen, he who is the first will be with you to the last. He was there when it started. He’ll be there when it’s finished, and he’ll be there every moment in between. What about Job? What do we read in Job chapter 42 and verse 12? That the latter end of job was greater than the former. God was with him from the first to the last, from that day sitting at his breakfast table sipping his coffee and the word comes: “Your sons are dead. Job, you’ve lost everything. Raiders have come.” His life is turned upside down, inside out and you know what? From that moment on, God is with him and at times Job doesn’t see that. There are times he loses his way and curses the day he’s born, but in the end, God will prove to him that he is the First and the Last and he never left Job.
And you and I in the middle of something need to keep our eyes on Christ from beginning to end. He is the First and the Last. We’re told in Hebrews 12 verses one to three, what? We’re told looking unto Jesus the author and the finisher of our faith. You don’t think you can make it as a Christian? You’re maybe in a situation, a home situation that’s difficult. It’s difficult to go into that school environment every week that’s so hostile to you and your faith and your values? And we could go on multiplying the circumstances. Can you make it? Yes you can. But not you, but He who is the hope of glory in you.
I like the story of the little girl who used to be deadly afraid of tunnels. When she was a little nipper, she would always press her face against her mother every time they went through a tunnel either on a train in or in a car, and she wouldn’t pull her head from her mother’s breasts until they were out in the sunshine again. But as the years had passed, she got a little wiser. She used to thrill passing through the tunnels and one day her mother asked her: “Why the change?” To which the little girl replied: “Mother, I love tunnels now because I know that there’s a light on both ends.” My friend, when you and I are in the tunnel, we need to remember the light on both ends. He is the first and He is the last. He is the brackets of history. He is the bookends of life.
And just like we read in Psalm 23 verse six, he will go into the valley, he will take you through the valley and he will help you come out of the valley of the shadow of death. Oh, the sovereignty that Christ has over life. Do you see his sovereignty over life?
Secondly, do you see his supremacy over death? In this second element of Christ’s self-description, the Church of Smyrna are reminded of the ground-braking doctrine of the resurrection of the Savior. These things says he who is the Fitst and the Last, who was dead and came to life.
We read in First Peter three verse 18 that the Lord Jesus Christ died in the flesh and came to life and the spirit, that’s how God can die because God took to himself a body. And Christ submitted his body to death, but he was made alive in the Spirit. In fact, the tense of the Greek here is in the [inaudible 00:23:29], these verbs put the stress on actual happenings past and previous. And Christ has them looking back to that historical moment, that actual happening on the cross when he became dead but three days later sprang to life again.
And then that great triumph over death, all our victory was secured. What do we read in Hebrews chapter two? This has taken us to the heart of the gospel. Maybe it questions us as to who Jesus is and what did he come to do? Here it is: “Insomuch, then,” Hebrews 2:14, “as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared in the same. Christ came, the eternal God, added flesh to his spirit so that through death,” so being put to death in his flesh, “he might be brought again to life in the spirit; so that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death,” that is the devil, “and released those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” One of the reasons Jesus came is indeed to take away from us the fear of death.
Embedded in that is the idea of God’s judgment because it’s appointed onto man once to die, then the judgment, and then his death for our sins on the cross Jesus removes that as we put our faith where God put our sin. And he indeed exits the grave three days later, reminding us that death has lost its sting.
Christ reveals not only his presidency over life, but he reveals his power over death. According to Hebrews 7:16, he indeed exists in an endless life. This is all very relevant, isn’t it, to a church that’s hearing that they might be facing the firing squad? Be faithful unto death. “But remember, I am the First and the Last and I became dead, but I also became alive again. Of us it will be said, He lived and died. But of him it was said, He died and lived.” Christ has some keys hanging from his belt and those keys are the keys to death and hell, according to Revelation one verse 18. The Lord Jesus Christ has no beginning of days and no end of life. And he is the one who stands amidst his church. He’s the one who through the presence of the indwelling Spirit is our companion throughout life and this is very appropriate again to a church that’s in a city, remember, that itself died and came to life.
And there may be a play on that going on here, but whether that’s the case or not, the whole idea is simply to prompt them to get their focus on the risen savior, that they have no need to fear physical death because it’s not a man that’s a beginning. It’s not a goodbye, it’s hello. It’s not a loss, it’s a profit. It’s a good thing. The Christian turns a profit in his death. And he lives for Christ, death is gain. Christ is reminding them that martyrdom and its pain would not be followed by the second death, but by the beginning of a true life. Be faithful unto death and I’ll give you the crown of life. Overcome and you’ll not be hurt by the second death.
What a message to them, huh? That death had been robbed of its sting and martyrdom of its menace. The impact of that must have been powerful. These believers could give themselves to the service of God’s kingdom in a hostile environment whatever the risk because they knew that their ultimate future was secure.
Listen to me. Christians are not risk-averse people. If you’re a risk-averse person, you have missed the import and the impact of the resurrection because the worst thing that can happen to us actually is the best thing that can happen to us. Because Jesus said, “I’m the [inaudible 00:28:13] and the life and he who believes in me shall not die. If a man dies, he shall yet live.” The worst thing that can happen to us is to die, but that’s the best thing that can happen to us because we don’t die.
You see the impact this would’ve had on them? They would’ve kept on risking. They would’ve kept on being faithful. They could buy into this “be faithful unto death” because I was once dead but I’m alive and he who dies shall never die in me, because I will give to you that endless life that is mine. And death didn’t take it from me.
David Larson said this: “We are heirs of a spiritual and moral detonation that occurred 2000 years ago, the vitality of which reverberates around the world. The day Jesus rose from the dead, a spiritual and moral detonation took place in the underworld and above that world, and the impact of it and the vitality of it continues to reverberate and ripple around the world and across history.
You see, the resurrection just doesn’t give us hope in death, it gives us power in life. We read here in Philippians three verse 10, Graham Scroggie gave it to Helen Roseveare, “That you might know him and the power of his resurrection.” You see the power of the doctrine of the resurrection has in the life of a Christian? In fact, you read about it in Ephesians chapter one, in verse 19. The doctrine of the resurrection isn’t something that sits on a shelf until you and I are croaking it. This is something that ought to affect the way we live every single day. Look at verse 19 of Ephesians chapter one. And what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe? “According to the working of his mighty power, which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at the right hand of God in the heavenly places far above all principalities and power?” My friend, the power that raised Jesus from the dead took us from that state of spiritual death outside of Christ to a state of spiritual life in Christ. The day you and I received was a resurrection, spiritual, a weight in the physical, and that power ought to be working in us day by day.
I was watching a program recently. It was about the threat of militant Islam. The Jihadists that basically threaten our life and our liberty every single day, make no mistake about it. It happened this week in Fort Hood. It’s interesting, uh? Dropped off the news for some reason. But I was watching a program and a commentator said this. He did admit the difficulty of trying to beat this kind of enemy. Here’s what he said. It was rather frightening, to an extent. He said this, “How do you defeat or deter an enemy for whom death is victory?” You ever think about that? That’s what we’re up against. They don’t love life. They love death and destruction. How do you beat somebody who wants to die?
And yet I thought about that this week when I came to this and I tried to take that negative image and turn it into a positive image. How do you stop a Christian for whom death is victory? And we’re not talking about Christian jihadism. We’re not talking about throwing ourselves on people with a bout of explosives around our waists. But at the same time, when you and I grasp that the one who indwells us with endless life, he’s the First and the Last. He was dead and has come to life again, then you and I can be faithful unto death. We don’t go looking death, but if death comes looking us, we embrace it with joy. We are not risk averse because we believe in the one who has sovereignty over life and supremacy over death.
That’s why the book of Acts finishes with an adverb. It’s very unusual in the Greek and in the grammar of the New Testament for any passage, let alone a book, to end with an adverb. But if you go to the Greek text, you’ll see in Acts 28 and verse 31, the book of Acts finishes with the adverb “unstoppable” or “unhindered.” Is that not the motif of the church? Is that not what ought to mark real, authentic Christianity? Christians ought to be unstoppable people because if you think about it, the worst thing that can happen to us is the best thing that can happen to us.
That’s their savior. Let’s begin to look at their suffering for a few minutes. Their suffering. This is a church marked by and marked out for suffering. And remember, that’s written into the contract when you put your faith in the Lord Jesus. You’ve signed up for suffering. If you’re not willing to take up your cross, you’re not his disciple. If you’re not willing to love him more than your mother and father, your brother and your sister, you are not his disciple. It’s there in the contract. This church is now facing that. According to the Lord Jesus, they were already in the furnace of affliction and the heat was about to be turned up. He already acknowledges, “I know your works.” Look verse nine: “I know your tribulation, your poverty, but you’re rich. I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not. Do not fear any of these things which you’re about to suffer. It’s going to get worse. The devil’s about to throw some of you in prison. You’re going to be tested. You’re going to have tribulation for 10 days and it might lead to some of you losing your life, but be faithful onto death.”
The church at Smyrna was up against it. They were caught in the crossfire of Gentile opposition and they were caught in the crossfire of Jewish antagonism. We’ve already established this, the fact that in this city, a center for emperor worship, that every year if they were brought to the attention of the authorities, the Christian would find themselves at a crossroads. Would they acknowledge that Caesar is Lord or would they acknowledge that Christ is Lord? Now remember we said last week, if they were willing to acknowledge that Caesar is Lord, they didn’t mind if on a Monday morning they even acknowledged that Jesus was Lord, but in all things he must have the preeminence. If he’s not Lord of all, he’s not Lord at all.
But on the other side, then you had this Jewish community that were in Smyrna. Remember, it was a center for commerce and many of the Jews had moved to this city. No doubt their antagonism, which is talked about here in verse nine, is kind of based on the fact that they were angry and opposed to this idea that the Messiah could indeed at all be a crucified carpenter from Nazareth. Won’t tell us that the one promised in the Old Testament is hanging from a cursed tree. That’s impossible.
That’s why according to First Corinthians 1:18, to the Jew, the gospel of the crucified redeemer is a stumbling block. They stumbled at this. Now, their Messiah was at knight in shining armor, not one who from lowly birth would ultimately see the world by hanging on a cursed cross.
Then on top of that, many of the early converts to Christianity naturally come out of Judaism. Many of them had their eyes open to see that indeed Christ was the seat of the Abraham, and that they were a true Jew in putting their faith in him. So here they were caught in the pincer movement of the Gentile opposition on the one hand, the Jewish antagonism on the other, but there’s three things about their suffering. We’re just going to touch on one this morning. It’s threats, it’s time and it’s test.
Let’s begin to look at its threats. What does this suffering look like is Jesus underlines it and outlines it. First thing we see their tribulation. He says: “I know your works and your tribulation.” And the tribulation was certainly the hatred and the harassment they were getting from Jews and from Gentiles. The word itself means pressure. They were in a bind. They were being squeezed from both sides. That society acted like a boa constrictor slowly yet surely squeezing the life blood out of this body of believers. With that tribulation came poverty, the one is the natural outcome of the other.
The Christians were non gratas in Smyrna. They couldn’t get jobs. If they were a business, they couldn’t get work. Many of them, as Paul tells us in First Corinthians 1:26, came out of the lower classes. Doesn’t Paul tell us that not many mighty or not many noble have come to faith in the Lord? It’s hard for a rich man who’s so cocky, so sure about himself, to get humbled at the cross and to empty himself that he might be filled with God’s love and the life of the Spirit. But that doesn’t give us a full answer. It’s clear that they were suffering poverty because of what they were going through. What you need to know is this, that the word that Jesus uses here for poverty is a word that means extreme poverty. Jesus specifically chose this word. He had two words open to him. One is “general poverty.” Used this one which means “destitute.” They had not two pennies to rub together. Their hands were tied financially. Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hin would’ve nothing to say to this church. And it wasn’t because of their lack of faith. In fact, it was their faith that got them into this predicament, in this problem.
These are faithful Christians. You can be faithful and believing and still be in poverty. Brother Zembal tell you the health and wealth gospel has nothing to say to Christians in Zambia, or Zaire, Rhodesia, South Africa, or in Indonesia. No, the persecuted church, it may be a pure church, but it is often a poor church. In fact, Paul tells of his own experiences in Philippines 4:12, he says, “I know what it is to abound and I know what it is to be abased.” There’s been times he tells us in Second Corinthians 11 where he was hungry, naked, thirsty. We read in Hebrews 11:37 of those Old Testament sins who in following God find themselves in the wilderness and destitute.
Doesn’t always pay immediately to follow the Lord Jesus. Don’t present the gospel to people like come to Jesus and all your problems will be solved. My friend, their problems will probably only really begin, but that’s okay. There’s a crown of life and there’s a hell to be missed in knowing Christ and loving Christ and being faithful to Christ.
As we close, I want you to see about Jesus’ commentary, this is a great place to finish this morning, Christ transforms their perspective. Here they are living under a hill of bullets, caught in the crossfire of Gentile opposition, Jewish antagonism, but Jesus transforms their perspective. “I know your tribulation, I know your pressure and I know your poverty, but…” This is one of the blessed buts of the Bible, “but you are…” What? “… rich.” You’ve got to be kidding me. No, it’s true. You are rich. Jesus wanted them to know that in reality the culture was the poor rich, for all they had was money. And the church was the rich poor, for they had Christ as their treasure.
It’s not a bad message for us to hear in a recession. And by the way, whatever you and I are facing, we’re still nowhere near or anywhere near what these believers were going through in Smyrna. I don’t think any one of us is facing destitution, but it still has an application to any one of us. From another perspective, these believers, an eternal one, were being reminded that they were fabulously rich. They were an affluent assembly of God’s people who possessed wealth and money, or who possessed wealth that money could not buy and death could not steal.
In Second Corinthians 6:10, Paul says something interesting. In fact, let’s just go there quickly. Second Corinthians 6:10, what does he say? Says this. In fact, we’ll back up into verse nine. “As unknown, yet well-known; as dying, behold we live; as chastened, yet not killed; as sorrowing, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing yet possessing all things.”
What a paradox. Can you possess nothing and possess everything? Yeah. You can have nothing materially and everything spiritual. You get to see thought, don’t you, in Proverbs 13 and verse seven? Proverbs 13:7, again an interesting on how we measure success. “There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing, and there is one who makes himself poor but has great riches.”
My friend, you may have a big fat bank balance and you may drive a fancy car and you may wear some nice clothes and you may enjoy some nice country club events, but there’s the real possibility you’re rich but you have nothing. And there may be someone here this morning don’t have an awful lot in their retirement account. They make their clothes last. They watch their pennies because they need to make ends meat. They may not have very much, but they have great riches because they’ve got Christ.
James 2:5, James says: “You are rich in faith.” Ephesians 2:4, Paul says: “But God, who is rich in mercy, loved us in Christ.” One Peter 1:3-5 says that we have an inheritance in heaven that is undefiled and incorruptible. Doesn’t fade away. Listen, the Christian is recession-proof because wealth has nothing to do with greenbacks or bank balances, but it has everything to do with God and a relationship with him through Christ.
I love the story of the old days when the tax assessor would come to homes personally. Now they don’t have the guts to. A tax assessor comes to a home one day and he asked the man if he could give him a list of his possessions. The man looks at him and says: “Sir, first I have everlasting life. Second, I have a mansion in heaven. Third, I have peace that passes all understanding. Fourth, I have joy unspeakable. Fifth, I have divine love that never fails. Sixth, I have a faithful wife. Seventh, I have healthy and obedient children. Eight, I have loyal friends. Nine, I have songs in the night. And 10 I’m looking forward to a crown of life.” The man looked at him and said: “Sir, you’re very rich and your possessions are not subject to taxation.” Are you rich this morning? Do you have eternal life? Do you know Christ? Are you indwelled of the spirit? Are all the promises that are great and exceeding in this book yours because they’re yes and amen, and Jesus Christ to you?
Or are you one of the Orange County rich poor? Your garages are filled with nice cars, your bank balance isn’t doing too bad. You’ve got more rooms in your house than you can fill, but your heart is aching and you’re in debt to God and the wrath of God abides upon you. And you are perilously close to eternal loss.I know your poverty, but you’re rich.
Think about that as we close. Are you one of the rich poor? Or are you one of the poor rich? And as the team comes up, we’re going to sing a song that just reminds us to keep believing and to keep moving forward and to keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ, to stand our ground. We can turn into a new week here with some enthusiasm, with a spirit of steadfastness because the one who walks with us is the one who is sovereign over life and supreme over death, and he knows all about us. And if we are in him and he’s in us, then we have a peace that passes all understanding. We have a joy unspeakable and full of glory, and we have an inheritance that fades not away. I think we’re rich. We’re well-to-do in the grace and the mercy of God.
Let’s pray. Oh God, we just pray this morning that we would see who’s on the inside of this church and on the inside of our lives, and regardless of what’s going on on the outside, may we exceedingly fear him, for in the fearing of him, there is no fear of anything else. God, from Monday to Saturday of this week, we thank you as the First and the Last. You will be with us. Your providence will work for us. Your presence will never leave us or forsake us, and you will go through whatever we are going through.
O God, make us unstoppable people. Forgive us for giving up and falling down so readily and so easily. O God, help us to stand our grind, to allow the power of the resurrection, the principle of endless life to be at work in us so that we live with endless hope, not like those around us who are facing a hopeless end. But God, whatever we have or don’t have, it really doesn’t matter if you have us. We are fabulously rich in all the riches that truly count: the success and the riches that money cannot buy and death cannot steal.
And if there’s someone here this morning that doesn’t know you, who are still impoverished by trusting in themselves and being the captain of their own souls and being ignorant of the peril that they are in, for there is a gaping hell waiting to swallow them up, may they flee to Christ. May they cash in on your grace and declare bankruptcy in an act of repentance and faith. And we’ll give you the glory and we’ll rejoice with them for these things we ask in Jesus name and everybody’s sake. Amen. Let’s stand.