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Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Revelation 2:8 for a final look at the letter to the Church of Smyrna, a message we have entitled Stand Your Ground. God is faithful to us, may God help us to be faithful to him. And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
“These things, says the First 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 they’re not, but are synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of these 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 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. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”
The Reverend David Macrae was a Scottish minister who visited the United States many years ago and interviewed the great commander of the Confederate forces, Robert E. Lee. And in this conversation he asked him, “What race of people do you believe makes the best soldier?” General Lee answered, “The Scots, who came by way of Ireland.” Now he’s referring here to the Scots-Irish. They were the early Irish Protestants and Presbyterians who came from Scotland through Northern Ireland, and then into the frontiers of the emerging United States.
And the Reverend Macrae asked him, “Why do you say that general?” To which he replied, “Because, they have all the dash of the Irish in taking a position and all the stubbornness of the Scots in holding it.”
And there’s a truth to that. In fact, I came across a Scots-Irish prayer some time ago and the prayer went like this, “Lord, make me right in everything I do, for thy knowest how hard I am to turn.” There’s a stubbornness to the Scots-Irish. And as we come back into the context of this letter, for a fourth and final time, we’re confronted with Christ’s call to these Christians in this city to express a certain spiritual stubbornness. A certain spiritual stubbornness.
If this letter has taught us anything, it has taught us one thing. That those who walk with Christ will not run from suffering, suffering for his name, suffering for his [inaudible 00:03:03]. We’ve learned that the call to Christ and the gospel involves taking sides, facing foes, suffering loss. It is not only our privilege to believe in him, but to suffer also for him.
The Christian has to learn to stand his ground at the foot of the cross. And so as we turn towards the end of this letter, Jesus teaches us that very thing. He teaches us how to stand our ground at the foot of the cross. We’re looking really this morning at the tail end of verse 10 and all of verse 11. “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. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”
We have looked at their savior, we have looked at their suffering and now this morning we’re coming to look at their steadfastness. Jesus calls this church to dig in their spiritual heals, even in the face of acid opposition, in the face of possible martyrdom. This is a band of believers who find themselves on the front lines of a cosmic conflict as they live out their lives among the citizens and the culture of Smyrna.
They’re caught in the crossfire between God and Satan, between good and evil. And so Christ writes to encourage them not to lose their nerve, not to surrender their ground. Jesus wants them to keep the faith. Jesus wants them to fight the good fight from the trenches in Smyrna with distinction and with determination.
When we read here, “be faithful unto death,” we’re not so much considering the duration of their suffering in that, from a certain point until they die, they got to stand for Christ. We’re not so much talking about the duration of their suffering, but the degree of it. Some of them would soon die, some of them would soon give up their life in martyrdom and pay the ultimate price. And so Christ encourages them in the face of destitution, in the face of death to exemplify and express spiritual stubbornness. He wants them to stand their ground.
[NEW_PARAGRAPH]Isn’t that a call to all Christians? Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:13, to what? To, “Put on the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand in the evil day.”
May God find us standing. May we possess and express spiritual stubbornness. We want to be faithful to God because God’s faithful to us and we want to do it until death, whether that comes sooner or later for them. And for some of them, it would be sooner rather than later.
But we’re not to be faithful until we’re tired, we’re not to be faithful until we have retired, we’re to be faithful until we have expired.
Our death may not involve sudden and early martyrdom as the case here, but may God give us grace to stay the course and even if death takes us in old age, as we sleep in the safety of our own beds with our family around us, with our pastor praying over us, may we be found faithful.
You see, here’s a takeaway. We are to be just as faithful in life as martyrs are in death. That’s the point here. Write that down and think about it. Because of God’s good providence, very few of us living in the United States live under the threat of death and the chances are very, very few of us will have to give up our life for Christ while we live here. And that’s a good thing. That’s a blessing, that’s a providence and thank God for the safety and the security that we have and the freedoms that are ours. And tonight we should come and give thanks, but not to the point where it makes us soft. Because as we hear about our brethren dying, in Africa and Asia and in other parts of the world today, in growing numbers, dying often at the hands of militant Islam, may we be as faithful in life as they are in death.
In fact, I want to say this, think about this with me. Sometimes it takes just as much courage to live out every day martyrdom across a lifetime as it does to face the firing squad in a moment of time. It takes courage to die, but sometimes it just takes as much courage to live. And so may you and I be faithful unto death, may we be faithful in life as the martyrs were and are in death.
I like the story that Warren Wiersbe tells in his book, Mountains and Molehills, he tells the story of a soldier who was home on furlough. He went to visit his grandfather who was an invalid, struggling with constant pain. And he went and asked his grandfather, that he would pray that he would have courage to die should that be the price he has to pay for patriotism and loyalty and faithfulness to his charge as a soldier.
The old man looked up through eyes that revealed the pain that he had to endure on a daily basis. And he said, “I will. I’ll pray for you, that you’ll have the courage to die, if you pray for me, that I’ll have the courage to live.”
Sometimes it takes just as much courage to live. Think about it for the Christian. When we die, we go to be with Christ, which is far better. But to live day by day or year by year in a difficult situation, in the company of people who give you a hard time. In the face of adversity. Day by day, year after year, that’s quite another thing, isn’t it? Maybe that’s why we’re seeing a skyrocketing number of suicides in our country because the very thought of living is too much to bear for some people. It takes courage to die and it takes courage to live, may God give us courage. Give us spiritual stubbornness to stand our ground for Christ.
And there’s two things that motivated them. This wasn’t simply a kind of stoic stubbornness. This wasn’t a cold commitment not to give in and grit your teeth and get something akin to the British stiff upper lip and just hunker down and suck it up. No, this is a resilience. This is a resistance that was activated and animated by some future realities and some future rewards. Look at what Jesus said, “Be faithful.” But he gives them a reason to be faithful. He motivates them. He seeks to activate and animate that resistance.
And there are two motivations, the crown of life on the one hand and the fact that they wouldn’t be hurt by the second death on the other. Jesus is saying this, “Remember that if you face death, there’s a crown of life to look forward to beyond the grave.” There’s life, but then there’s more life. That’s his point. And in the forfeiting of one life is not to lose out because there’s a crown of life that waits those who are faithful.
And then he says, “You know what? I want you to endure in the face of suffering. Because know this, that the cruel and painful punishment that you may face at the hands of the society and the Roman authorities, you can endure it and you’ll shortly pass through it. And on the other side, you don’t have to fear being harmed by the second death.”
That’s another way to describe hell. That’s another way to describe the conscious eternal punishment of those who die without Jesus Christ. And so he’s saying on the one hand, “Look, be faithful because there’s life and then there’s more life and there’s suffering and then there’s less suffering.” So for you, if it’s less life, hold onto the fact that there’s more life. If for you it means suffering, hold onto the fact that on the other side there’s less suffering.
So let’s take a look at these two thoughts. I’ve gathered them around two headings. You’ll find them in your outline. How does he encourage them to be steadfast? Number one: their entering of heaven. And number two: their skipping of hell.
Let’s look at the first thought. “Be faithful under death and I will give you the crown of life.” To alleviate their anxiety, Christ reminds these beleaguered believers that while their enemies could cut their lives short, it would only result in them entering and experience a fuller and forever life.
They would have a death crowned with life. That’s the point here. It’s a phrase we find over again in James 1:12. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved…” There’s that idea of testing that we talked about last week. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
Leon Morris, in commentary on Revelation points out that this phrase is preceded by a definite article. It’s the crown of life, it’s the life, it’s the fullness of life, it’s eternal life. There’s life, but then there’s the life, distinct and different. It’s eternal life. It’s fullness of life in the presence of God. This was a phrase idiomatic of the highest joys and the glory of future immortality. Jesus is saying that when you die, you inherit life itself. Whatever you have enjoyed in this life, what you will enjoy and experience in the next’s life transcends anything that you have yet imagined or encountered. And so in your loss, there’s a gain. Matthew 16:25. “He who loses his life from my sake will find it again.” Life, then more life. Suffering, then less suffering. “Hold on to that,” he says to the church in Smyrna.
Let me just read something from Randy Alcorn in his book on Heaven. “We use the term eternal life without thinking what it means. Life is an earthly existence in which we work and rest and play and relate to each other in ways that include the cultivation and enjoyment of culture. Yet we have redefined eternal life to mean an off earth experience and existence stripped of the defining properties of what we know life to be.”
Let me pause. He’s kind of saying, “You know what, we live this concrete physical material life with a spiritual dimension to it and we get this idea the next life is going to be this disembodied, ethereal experience. Where we’ll float on clouds.” We so we tend to think that eternal life is a whole different experience from this life. That’s wrong.
Let’s pick up his commentary. “We have redefined eternal life to mean an off-earth existence, stripped of the defining properties, what we know life to be.” Eternal life will be enjoined forever, what life on earth is at its finest moments, what it is intended to be. Since in heaven, we’ll finally experience life at its best, it would be more accurate to call our present existence the “before life”. Isn’t it interesting how we describe eternal life? What do we say it’s the “afterlife”?
No, this is the “before life” and it’s the life. It’s life as it’s meant to be. And we get little tastes of, but I don’t know whether it’s just those moments with someone you love or a rising a sunrise or whatever is. In a moment, you go, “Wow, this is the way life is meant to be.” Doesn’t last very long, but you get a kind of tasting. And he’s saying, “You know what? We’ll be in the intermediate heaven for a while, but then there’ll be a new Heaven and there’ll be a new Earth and we will spend our forever existence, not on an off-earth disembodied existence, but an on-earth embodied existence and we’ll rest and we’ll play and we’ll work.”
What we can look forward to is the life, the fullness of life. Eternal life is a breadth and depth and length of life that we have not hitherto experienced. It is life truly begun and it is ours in Christ. What death would bring to them would far outweigh what death would take from them, and that’s how they could be faithful unto death. Because death would bring to them much more than death would take from them. They would inherit the life. They would be crowned with life.
This is the before-life and when it’s done, life begins in Christ. And when we think of eternal life, the emphasis on eternal, really, it’s a different quality of life that will last forever. Because in a sense, those who die without Jesus Christ, as we’ll see, they continue to exist. They live eternally. So in a sense, they have eternal life in that they exist endlessly, but they don’t have eternal life in terms of its quality and experience and its joy. No, their existence is a death, a continuing death. Ours is a continuing life that’s getting better and better and better.
That’s the picture presented in the words here of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, he draws from the culture. This is the picture of the Victor’s Crown. Smyrna was known as an athletic place where competitions were held, where games were held through Asia. And if you finished the race triumphantly, you were given a stephanos a crown. It was a laurel wreath, and for a moment you enjoyed that glory. And if you connect the dots, the Lord Jesus is saying to this church, to those who finish the test, valiantly and victoriously, the Lord of life promises to them a stephanos of life, a crown of life.
But the difference is, this is an imperishable crown. The experience of it and the joy of it and the glory of it don’t fade, don’t come to an end. Isn’t that Paul’s point? Go back to 1 Corinthians 9. He also takes this metaphor up from the athletic arena and encourages Christians to give themselves to their walk with God as athletes give themselves to athletic competition. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” 1 Corinthians 9:25, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.”
Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we, an imperishable crown, eternal life, unending joys. “Therefore I run thus not with uncertainty, thus I fight not as one who beats the air,” basically, I don’t try and miss my punches. I want to land on the target. I want to make as much of my life as I can, verse 29, “but I discipline my body and I bring it into subjection lest when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
Paul, Jesus, is reminding the believers of then and saints of now that we need to be faithful and our faith and our endurance and our perseverance is animated and fueled and kept alive by the thought that you and I are faithful unto death, we will receive the crown of life. It’s not that our works merit heaven, but our faithfulness to Christ and the perseverance of our loyalty to him proves the genuineness of our faith, which is the whole thesis of James, right? That’s why James will write in James 1:12, that if your faith is approved, you’re going to get a crown of life. Because James says there are those who have faith with no work and their faith’s dead. It’s empty faith, it’s spurious faith. It’s not true faith because they don’t continue, they don’t love the Lord. They don’t continue to serve him. But those that do, can look forward to an imperishable crown.
I don’t know if I’ve told you this story of a friend of our family back in Northern Ireland. His name Johnny Jameson. My father was his Sunday school teacher. Johnny played in the big leagues a little bit in soccer in England and then came home and played in the amateur leagues of Northern Ireland. And the pinnacle of his career came in 1982 when he played for our nation, our country in the 1982 FIFA World Cup, which was being held at that time in Spain. He hadn’t yet played. Our team had beaten Spain in the first round in a one to zero memorable game. Now they’re into the second round. And we were up against Austria and then we were up against France on the 4th of July, 1982 and it was a Sunday.
And as Billy Bingham, the manager of the team, gathered the team for a team talk, as he read through the roster, he called on Johnny Jameson, he’d be on the bench as a substitute.
He was going to play in the biggest game of his life, 1982, the 4th of July, it was a Sunday. He was going to come up against France in the second round of the World Cup. And no sooner had Billy Bingham mentioned his name when Johnny interrupted the team talk and said, “Mr. Bingham, I’m not available because my conscience and my convictions don’t allow me to play sport on a Sunday. It’s the Lord’s day.”
That was his conviction. He was a modern-day Eric Liddell, if you remember, who refused to run in the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924. Johnny told me this story to my face one day. Said you could have heard a pin drop. You could see Billy Bingham’s face getting red with anger. The player refusing the platform of playing in the world’s stage. And so he was dropped.
And if you follow his career from that moment, he wasn’t given much of a chance on our national team from then on in. And he said, “I told this story one day, Pastor, to some congregants in a church in Belfast and wee man come up to me at the end of it and said, “Ah Johnny, you missed your cap.””
Because you see, if you played for your country in rugby or soccer, you got these kind of caps, cloth caps with the nation’s badge on it and it was something to keep and memorialize that moment and he said, “Oh Johnny, you missed your cap, but you’re going to get your crown. Your faithfulness to Christ.”
There’s part persevere when you and I lay hold of the promise of reward. Christ is encouraging this church to push through the pressure and the pain to the finish line where glory awaits. They were to carry the cross for now, they would wear the crown then. And the then informed the now. They had to impose the future on the present. They had to keep their eyes on what they could not see, lest they get distracted by all that was around them. And that’s the true Christian. That’s the true Christian life. It’s about living for something else.
See, people all around us live for this. This is it. This is all that it is. You only go around once, so grab all you can and knock everybody out of the way if they get in your way, but that’s not how Christians live. No, they don’t live just for this. They live this for that. They impose the future on the present. They live the now in the light of the then and they carry the cross because they know about the crown. The true Christian life is about living for something else. It’s about having a vision for eternity that makes sacrifice worthwhile now.
Christians that are not willing to me sacrifices, Christians that are not faithful, Christians that are not constant in their convictions and testimony for Jesus Christ, they are Christians who have not yet laid hold of heaven and been held by the thought of it. Because we should be willing to give up during earth’s little day for the long tomorrow, and the bliss and the blessing of the life that is yet to come. The full life. This is the before-life. It’s the life.
You see this worked out before we go into the second thought. In the life of Adoniram Judson, have you ever read his life? You should. Adoniram Judson and Ann Judson were some of the first foreign missionaries ever to leave the shores of the United States.
In 1812, Adoniram Judson, age 23, sailed for Burma with his wife who had just married him 12 days before. What about that for a honeymoon trip? And he spent the rest of their lives there. Listen to the letter that an Adoniram Judson writes to Ann Hasseltine’s father asking for her hand in marriage.
[NEW_PARAGRAPH]”I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world. Whether you can consent to her departure and her subjection to hardships and sufferings, which is the lot of missionary life, whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India, to every kind of want and distress, degradation, insult, persecution and perhaps violent martyrdom or death. Can you consult to all this for the sake of him who left his heavenly home and died for her and for you and for the sake of perishing immortal souls, for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory with a crown of righteousness brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall rebound to her savior from heathens saved through her means from eternal woe and despair.”
When I ask every father, myself included, if you got that letter, would you give your daughter up to the hand of that young man never to see her again?
Perhaps to hear of her degradation, her difficulties and even her death. But would you be animated and lay hold of the thought that your daughter along with her husband, Adoniram and Ann would rush into the front lines of world missions, into a hail of bullets and the anger of hell itself, but you know it would be worth it all. It’s the right thing to do because they would be faithful unto death and then they would receive the crown of life. Jesus would be glorified, people would be saved and some of the ranks of hell turned around and sent packing.
You see, their steadfastness in the light of their entering of heaven. Secondly, do you see their steadfastness in the light of their escaping of hell? Look at verse 11. “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.” Having spoken about the life after death, Jesus then goes on to speak about the exact opposite. He speaks about a second death, which we believe is the thought of eternal punishment and the negation of eternal life outside of Christ.
As it relates to the second death, Jesus issues of promise. Namely this, that those who die in the comfort of his peace, who die in the faith of the gospel, having staked their eternal future on calvary, his death and resurrection for them, they will overcome the world and they will not be harmed by the second death. In fact, grammarians tell us that this is written with a double negative in the Greek. Jesus is saying this, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes, shall not. Double negative.” It should be read like this, “Will never, by no means, be harmed by the second death.”
What a promise to those who are looking down the throat of death, looking down the barrel of a gun held in the hands of their enemy. And Jesus is saying to this church, “Be faithful unto death. I know you’re in danger, but face that danger valiantly, victoriously, because there are those all around you who are facing a greater danger. Your danger is one thing, their danger is another. They’re in danger of hell fire, they’re in danger of a greater death.”
That’s Jesus’ point. Jesus’ point is this: greater than the fear of physical death, should be the fear of God’s eternal judgment. And Jesus, you know, had shared this thought before, hadn’t he? Go back to Luke chapter 12, the Gospel of Luke, chapter 12 verses four through five. What does Jesus say? “I say to you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and afterward have no more that they can do, but I will show you whom you should fear. Fear him who after he has killed…” Isn’t that interesting? That Jesus makes God responsible for people’s deaths? “Fear him who after he has killed, has power to cast into hell? Yes, I say to you, fear him.” That’s the point here.
Guys, I know you’re fearful of what’s coming, but he has told him, look in verse 10, “Don’t be fearful of any of the things you’re about to suffer, because what you’re about to suffer is nothing compared to what they will suffer. Those who are doing this to you, they should be more fearful than you because you’re entering heaven and escaping hell. They’re missing heaven and entering hell.” That’s the point. That’s the motivation.
Let me just for a moment explain this free as the second death. It’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? How do you die twice? What does Jesus mean when he talks about the second death? Well, the second death is when the soul of man, which has been separated from the body in first death is separated from God forever in second death.
You and I need to understand that when the Bible talks about death, it’s not talking about the cessation of life, it’s not talking about the ending of one’s existence. The old hymn reminds us John Brown’s body lies a molding in the grave, but his soul goes marching on.” Because that’s what death is. The body dies. The physical house for our soul ceases to exist and crumbles into dust in burial. But the soul that came from God returns to God. And if that soul goes before God naked and without the righteousness of Jesus Christ, without the protection of his forgiveness and grace, that soul is then cut off from God forever. That’s the second death.
You read about it a number of times in the Book of Revelation, but let’s just jump ahead to Revelation chapter 21. Two verses I’ll note for you. Verse 14 of chapter 20, brings us to the great white throne, that judgment of the unsaved and those who died before the coming of Jesus Christ and they will be judged out of the books according to their works. That’s to determine not whether they get into heaven or hell. That’s to determine the degree of their punishment. There’s different degrees of punishment in hell. Jesus said, “[inaudible 00:35:28] I’ll be worse for you on the day of judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then we read at that time in the future, after the great white throne in Death and Hades, that’s the abode of the dead waiting for judgment, they’ll be cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
We read again about this in verse eight of chapter 21. Let’s back up into verse six. And he said to me, “It is done. I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.” This is Jesus Christ. “I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts, he who overcomes shall inherit all things and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the abominable murderer, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
The second death is the complete separation from God of a soul to torment. And that torment and that terror is so devastating that it’s pictured by the effect that fire has on the nerve ends of a human body. The second death is not annihilation. Death in the Bible is not cessation of life. It’s the separation of something consciously from that which it belonged. And so in the first death, our soul is separated consciously from the body to which it belongs. Isn’t that the analogy James uses in James 2:26, to talk about faith separated from works as dead faith? He talks about, “Hey, a body without a spirit is dead and faith without works is dead.”
Death is separation, not cessation. And the second death is the conscious separation of the soul, the life that God created for his glory that wasn’t lived for his glory. It was lived in rebellion and unbelief towards Jesus Christ. That life then is constantly separated from God forever.
I’m here to tell you people still go to hell. Young people and children and adults go to hell without Jesus Christ. Once they become conscious of the Gospel, once they understand it and consciously reject it, they are in danger of the second death.
And here’s the thought. For us as believers, death is an event and following it there comes the life. That’s what Jesus says, doesn’t he, in John 11, “Though a man die, yet shall live”? For us, it’s life unto more life.
But for those without Jesus Christ, maybe someone here this morning, death is not just an event, it’s a state of existence. That’s what the Bible teaches. There’s a fate worse than death. There is a fate worse than death. That’s why by the way, and I say this with compassion, suicide is no solution. You don’t end suffering in suicide. Not if you die without the Lord Jesus Christ. And you would think that it’s inconceivable for a Christian to want to take their life since they have everything to look forward to in Christ. Death will bring about a change of places, not an end of life. Death is not to be feared as much as the judgment that follows it. Hebrews 9:27, right? “It is appointed unto man to die once and then, the judgment.”
According to the Bible, suffering doesn’t necessarily end at death. It has often troubled me. Has it ever troubled? Either you hear the story or you watch on television an account of a story that just tugs at your heartstrings, a life of suffering, illness, pain brought either suddenly to an end, and in the time you’ve listened to this, how quickly everybody says, “But you know what? The suffering’s over.”
And again, I say this cautiously, but I trust compassionately. Is it? Perhaps they’ve just entered into the second death that Jesus talks about to this church and the book of Revelation talks about Jesus told us, “Don’t fear him who can kill the body and that’s all they can do.” That’s all they can do. When they’ve done that, they’re done.
But fear him who kills and then judges the soul and separates that soul that belonged to him but was never given to him, separates that soul consciously forever to a place of punishment from which there is no relief or reprieve. That’s the point Jesus makes here, isn’t it? The doctrine of hell is being applied here pastorally to Christians. He’s saying this, “In the light of your possible pending martyrdom, can you hang in? Can you hang on? Can stand your ground at the foot of the cross? Can you face the suffering?”
Polly Cartwood, one of the members of this church at Smyrna, some years later, he had faced the suffering of martyrdom and fire. You don’t think that Polly Cart remembered the words of the Lord Jesus? Don’t fear what you’re going to suffer because it’s just going to last for a moment. And the sufferings of the fire of martyrdom are but a candle to the fires of hell and the place of punishment that awaits those who die without Jesus Christ. The suffering is short in comparison. Remember it’s life and then more life. Remember it’s suffering and then less suffering. Things are bad, but they could be worse, a whole lot worse. You could be without Christ and you could be without God and you could be without hope. Jesus is actually telling the believers here as we close that their tribulation would be more tolerable by meditating upon hell than upon heaven.
I’ll tell you a story, as the team prepares itself for the close of the service.
I was out in Chicago, fall of 2008. I think I told you something of this story, but not the complete story. If you remember in the fall of 2008, I was out at a class in my doctoral program at Trinity Evangelical School of Divinity. I was taking a class on the New England theologian, Jonathan Edwards under Doug Sweeney, an Edwards scholar, and I became as sick as a dog. I mean it was horrendous. I spewed my guts for two days. There was fever, there was chills that assaulted my body. I was away from home in a cold hotel room. The nausea was the worst thing. After I’d kind of spewed my guts and had nothing more to give, yet it kept asking me to give. You’ve been there, it’s horrible, the nausea. I wanted to be sick, but I couldn’t be sick. I wanted to die, but I couldn’t.
When things got a little bit better, about two days into it, seriously, it was two days. June actually thought about flying out. Bless her heart. Fever broke a little. I couldn’t go to class. But I started reading some of the material. Jonathan Edwards was a young man, I think of 19, was it? Started to write some resolves, resolutions for himself. Here’s number 10. Resolved: When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom and of hell. He’s saying, “When I’m sick, I lie on my bed and I think of hell.”
And I was amazed. I closed the book and I started to try and do that. It was all fresh. I don’t think I had a set of clothes that wasn’t soaked through with sweat. I felt for the girl who came in and cleaned. I gave her a $50 tip at the end of the week. I don’t believe she cleaned out what I had her clean out. And I started to look back on that. Two thoughts gripped me.
One was this. I think I got a test of hell. When in the midst of my vomiting and fever, I had no sense of relief. You’ve been there? Just that moment where you just… You’re spewing your guts, the fever, the sense you have no control. You want to fall under the floor and… No relief in you. You want it to go away and it won’t go away. And that nauseating feeling in the pit of your stomach. And I thought to myself, “That’s what it’s like.”
For me, it lasted two days and I had enough of it. Just about kept myself from crying. And you know what? Jonathan Edwards says, “When you’re sick, think about the pains of hell, the nauseating sense of hopelessness, that this is never going to come to an end. That you’ve forfeited the love of Christ, that you’ve turned your back on the mercy of God, that you’ve spit in the face of his grace and there’s no relief and there’s no escape.”
And I took refuge in the fact that, you know what? As I thought about that, my experience came to an end. Their experience never comes to an end. And I came away thankful in regards to myself, that I’m saved and I will never be harmed by the second death. But I came away troubled. My friends and family, maybe even people in our church who are not sure or saved, and who could yet face the second death.
You’ve heard it said, I say it in closing, born once, you’ll die twice. Born twice, you’ll die once. Have you been born again? Have you come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Was there a definite conscious, heartfelt, willful moment in your life when you owned your sin and gave up on yourself? And turned in a moment to Jesus Christ and said, “Lord, you save me, become my priest, become my sacrifice, become my meteor, become my friend, become my comforter.” And in that moment, heaven came to you in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And peace came and a sense of wellness settled upon your soul and you knew that things were right with God because Jesus had made things right with God on the cross.
It was at that time, for me about eight o’clock, Sunday night, 20th of January, 1978, Antrim Road, Baptist Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I wept my way to the cross. And from that night, I’ve had my moments, but settling my confidence in Christ, from that night forward, I have not feared the thought of hell because Jesus did it all and all to Him I owe. He went through hell for me.
If you’re a believer, be faithful unto death because you’re going to enter heaven and you’re going to escape hell. My friend, if you’re without Christ, you need to come to Christ today. Even as we sing this final song, respond to him. If you want to come forward, I’ll be at the front now or after the service, come and talk. We’d love to point you to the Lord Jesus Christ. Heaven and hell are real or Jesus is a liar.
Oh God, we pray this morning in the light of your word, that indeed you would steal our souls and strengthen our resolve to live a life of faithfulness and obedience to your word and your will. Oh God, we want to be found standing. And we thank you for your steadfast love. We thank you that we can be steadfast because you are in your great faithfulness committed to us. Help us to draw upon your grace day by day. Help us to meditate upon heaven and hell. Help us to think about the life after the before life. Help us to think about the second death. One we will escape, the other we will enter. And oh God, trouble us about those who know not you, we don’t want to go to heaven by ourselves. We don’t want to forget about those who have yet to put their trust in you, who are yet born once to die twice, may they be born twice to die but once. And we ask and pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.