This sermon is from the series SEVEN DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHURCHES and was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on May 18, 2014 by Pastor Paul Mims. You can hear this sermon at www.csbccl.org
Revelation 2:8-11If you have ever suffered because you are a Christian you will find great meaning in this passage of scripture. The church, through times of great affliction, has found this word of our Lord to the church at Smyrna to be a soft pillow and a great source of comfort and strength.
All through history, the church has suffered although we here in the Bible belt in the South hardly know the kind of suffering that is the background of this scripture. But today out across the world many of our fellow believers are suffering for the cause of Christ. We who come this morning in the freedom and grand liberty which our nation affords ought to be reminded of those who are required to meet in secret or under duress, or at great risk to themselves.
Smyrna was the church that Jesus was supremely pleased with. It was the only one of the seven about which he said nothing in terms of correction. It is the only one of the seven that is alive today.
The ancient city of Smyrna is the Turkish city of Izmir today. And the Eastern Orthodox Church is strong there.
“Smyrna” is a word that is derived from “myrrh.” Myrrh is tree resin that has been used since ancient times for its medicinal, cosmetic, aromatic, and spiritual applications. It was used for incense burning, room fragrance, and for application to the dead. It was one of the gifts that the Wise Men brought to Jesus. This church gave off a sweet fragrance to Heaven.
Smyrna was a cultural city that boasted of a library with many volumes which was a great accomplishment when books had to be copied by hand. It was also an educational center with some of the finest schools of the day. It was the home of the writer, Homer, who wrote the Iliad and The Odyssey. It was also the center of Emperor Worship. They erected a statue of the Emperor Tiberius.
Emperor worship was in the background of all of these letters. It was required of all Roman citizens that once a year they would be called publicly to pay tribute to Caesar. This was done by burning a pinch of incense and declaring “Caesar is Lord.” It was both a statement of religious and political loyalty. The Christians refused to do it and that is one reason why they were persecuted.
Spices often give forth their best taste and fragrance when they are crushed. It was the crushing of this church that sent the fragrance of faithfulness to the Lord of Heaven that caused Him to be so pleased with them.
I. THE FRAGRANCE OF AN UNPROVOKED SPIRIT.
Sometimes when we are pressed and our time of tribulation comes, there is the human tendency to turn against God for allowing such to happen to us. But Jesus told us that “…in this world you will suffer tribulation.”
Notice how he begins in verse 8: “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich. I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
Paul and the early Christians began their ministries in the Synagogues. In the early days, the Jewish Christians continued to attend the synagogues. Paul and the other missionaries tried to avert a break with the synagogues, but here at Smyrna the cultural Jews offered such opposition to the Christians that any association with the synagogues was impossible. These Jews were so ungodly that Jesus called them “the synagogue of Satan.”
So the church at Smyrna suffered both religious and political persecution. This affected their jobs and income, their housing, education, and every area of their lives which made them poor. Jesus told them, “I know.” He also said, “You are rich in the things that really count.” He saw that they were not provoked in spirit but remained with a true and balanced Christian spirit about life.
It has always been hard for Christians to endure slander and that is one of the tools that Satan uses against us. Dr. George W. Truett was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. One day, he went hunting with the Chief of Police. They were crossing a fence and his gun discharged and killed the police chief. A minister in Fort Worth, J. Frank Norris, who had it in for Dr. Truett, sent him a telegram every Sunday for a long time which read, “Remember that a murderer is preaching in the First Baptist Church of Dallas today.” Soon his deacons learned what was happening and they started intercepting the telegrams. Norris is a type of religious legalist in the church today who thinks himself to be the only one who is perfect and because of this he is censorious in spirit and cannot fellowship with anyone who does not see things exactly as he does.
II. THE FRAGRANCE OF A FEARLESS WITNESS
Smyrna was a city of pagan temples. The Greek gods of Apollo and Zeus were worshipped there in big temples. But the Christians did not have these magnificent structures. But they had a direct visit from Christ who said to them, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The “ten” refers to a period of intense suffering.
A woman had a dream in which she saw three women praying. The first knelt and prayed and Jesus came and spoke comforting words to her, placed his hand upon her and blessed her. And great was that moment of prayer. Then he came to the second woman kneeling in prayer and he simply put his hand on her shoulder and passed on. He came to the third woman kneeling in prayer and passed her by. He didn’t look her way or give a word of blessing, or a touch. And the dreamer said to the Lord, “You must love the first woman immensely.” “I love them all” he said. “Why did you stop and bless the first one?” “She is so weak,” he said. “She is weakest of them all and needs so much affirmation. The second one is stronger. And the third is the strongest and I have great plans for her in the Kingdom.”
Research into present day Christian persecution reveals the following:
“Christians now represent almost a third of the world population. And among the 2.2 billion Christians around the globe, over 100 million are the victims of religious persecution. According to analyst John Allen, Jr., author of the newly released The Global War on Christians, these Christians are indisputably “the most persecuted religious body on the planet.” Too often, he explains in detail, their persecution is either silent or misunderstood.
In recent years there’s been much talk of a “war on religion” in the United States. Controversy over the Health and Human Services mandate requiring religious employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortions that have prompted many Christian institutions to protest the Obama administration’s narrow religious exemptions. Others have pointed to cases where religious opposition to same-sex marriage has led to charges of prejudice and bias and limited the practices of adoption and foster care agencies and other faith-based services. When talk of religious freedom occurs, these stories tend to dominate the discussion. While these examples present real and serious limitations of religious freedom, Allen expands the scope much wider, and introduces a world in which Christians of all backgrounds are being silenced, punished, and—in a disturbing number of cases—killed for their faith.
Meet Bishop Umar Mulinde, a leader in the Pentecostal Church in Uganda who converted to Christianity from Islam 20 years ago. On Christmas Eve 2011, he was attacked by a Muslim extremist, who threw acid on his face in protest of Mulinde’s vocal criticism of the Ugandan parliament’s proposal to grant legal recognition to sharia courts. While Christians make up more than 80 percent of the Ugandan population, this fact hasn’t reduced the threat to Mulinde’s life or to other prominent Christians in the country. In fact, the 2011 attack was merely one of the many made against him since his conversion to Christianity. Despite such threats, Mulinde remains resolute: “I am not happy about getting hurt, but it’s a price I’m happy to pay in order to be faithful to what I believe.”
According to the latest data, Christians make up 63 percent of the African population—a grand total of 380 million souls. Yet while the continent can boast of the world’s fastest-growing Christian population, it’s coming at an equally high cost to the faithful on the ground.
Consider the more prominent story of Aaiya Noreen Bibi, better known as Asia Bibi, the 43-year-old Catholic mother of five who was charged with blasphemy in Pakistan in 2009. Her crime? After picking berries in 100-degree heat, she was thirsty and drank water out of a local well. Upon doing so, local Muslim women blamed her for defiling the well and the conversation soon erupted into a dispute about Jesus and Muhammad. Although the conversation never turned violent, Bibi was arrested, charged, and sentenced to death by hanging.
According to the International Society for Human Rights, 80 percent of religious discrimination in the world is against Christians. Based on the annual report produced by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “Status of Global Mission,” more than 100,000 Christians were killed each year between 2000 and 2010—effectively, 11 Christians every hour. Since the time of Christ there have been 70 million Christian martyrs. More than half of those—45 million—lost their lives during the 20th century. In other words, there’s never been a more dangerous time to be a Christian than the present.
Contrary to popular belief, Christian persecution is not simply the result of radical Islamic terrorism. In our post-September 11th world, attacks on Christians that take place in the Middle East are likely to garner more mass media attention than those occurring in other regions. Yet based on the numbers, the majority of Christians that have suffered persecution have been in non-Muslim countries, most notably Communist societies with state-sponsored subjugation. In fact, the missionary aspect of the faith requires service in breadlines, orphanages, hospitals, and schools, and this is not limited by location. In recent decades, it was the faith of Christians that inspired the resistance movement leading to the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, demonstrating that Christianity can operate as a worldwide force for democracy and human rights. These attributes make the Christian witness attractive, and have contributed to its extraordinary growth around the world—not just in places like Africa and Latin America, but also Eastern Europe and Asia. All of this has placed Christians on the front lines of their communities wherever they are, and this public witness has resulted in the very public attacks from Christianity’s enemies.” (Christopher White and John L. Allen)
We have seen what television companies have done to the Duck Dynasty and others who maintain a Christian witness regardless of what the world thinks. We are in a time when the world is hostile to Christianity because we challenge the redefining marriage and other social issues.
There is a fragrance that comes from a fearless witness. The Christians at Smyrna were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God. They were empowered by the resurrection. About fifty years later, this church had a Bishop called Polycarp. The Romans called him forth to give his worship to Caesar. He said, “I will not do it.” They said, “We will burn you at the stake unless you do.” And Polycarp said, “Eighty and six years have I served him and he has never failed me. I will not fail him.” They tied him to the stake and placed the wood around him. They lit the fire and the old preacher prayed, “Lord, I thank you that you have counted me worthy to give my life for you.” The flames consumed him and he went into the presence of the Lord.
Jesus said, “Be faithful even to the point of 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 will not be hurt by the second death.” (vv.10-11)
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!