Saturday, July 27, 2013

P2 Jesus wants a courageous church - Revelation 2:8-11

Revelation 2:10 "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." 

Introduction & review
As we have mentioned in times past, Jesus is addressing these seven churches to communicate among other things, what He wants His church in every place to be. Jesus' message to Ephesus had to do with Him wanting her to be a more loving church, since she had left her "first love."  In the letter to the church of Smyrna, we will discover that Jesus Christ wants a courageous church.  Yesterday we suggested the following about the courageous faith Jesus desires among His saints and churches in Revelation 2:8-11:

1. Courageous faith comes from Jesus Christ. Revelation 2:8-9
Jesus begins this letter with these words in Revelation 2:8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this".
Now the titles that Jesus uses for Himself in each of these seven letters are repeats of seven such titles we find in Revelation 1.  This particular title in Revelation 2:8 is first mentioned in Revelation 1:16-17 - "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying,Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades."   

When Jesus states this particular title, He says it in a context of comfort and encouragement to the beloved Apostle.  Overwhelmed by the full and unveiled Deity of Jesus Christ, John falls at the feet of Jesus as a dead man, much like Isaiah in Isaiah 6 who became "undone" in God's presence or Daniel in the presence of the Pre-incarnate Christ in Daniel 10:8-9.  All three prophets could not stand in the presence of Christ's infinite being.  The Pre-incarnate Christ sent an angel to both Isaiah and Daniel to give reassurance of to not be afraid.  In Revelation 1:16-17 we see the glorified Christ Himself comfort His apostle with the same types of words: "do not be afraid."  Undoubtedly Christ's identifying name to John back in Revelation 1:16-17 is used to communicate this first fact about courageous faith - that Jesus Christ Himself is the source of it. 

The name "Smyrna" is closely related to the spice "myrrh".   The spice was used to describe the heavenly bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ in Psalm 45:8.  Myrrh was one of the three spices brought by the wisemen to the infant Christ in Luke 2:11 and it was used in Christ's burial in John 19:39.  Further study of the spice reveals that the way in which the aroma was released was by the crushing of the spice.  As Dr. John Walvoord notes about this point: "The fragrance of Christ as the bridegroom is thus represented typically by the myrrh."1  How fitting that the sweet aroma of Jesus Christ be released by courageous faith supplied by Jesus in the midst of crushing circumstances.  

When you draw courageous faith from Jesus Christ, you are spiritually rich regardless of the poverty of circumstances
So Jesus Christ is the source of courageous faith as seen in Revelation 2:8. As you read on into this shortest of the seven letters, we find these words in Revelation 2:9 "I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” This church was experiencing physical poverty due to her commitment to not give into the pagan culture and intense pressure to conform or die.  The Smyrnan Christians would had been prohibited to participate in many of the city services and functions due to their allegiance to Christ.  However Jesus tells them “but you are rich”.  In our English text we have “parenthesis” drawn around those words to set them apart from the rest of the sentence. In the parenthesis of God’s grace, we are in the world but not of it.  The Bible speaks about how the true believer in Jesus Christ has riches untold even though they be impoverished and that they are to lay their treasures up in heaven, since wherever your treasure is their your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-20, 10:28-31; 2 Corinthians 6:10; James 2:5)

No doubt about it, the church at Smyrna was to undergo severe trial.  She would be "crushed" but not destroyed.  Jesus often reminds his people of how He is the source of courageous faith.  John 14:1 Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me."  Or how about John 16:33 "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

2. Courageous faith is strengthened in trials. Revelation 2:9-10a
Revelation 2:10 states: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days."  As Christians in America in the 21st century, we operate under the mistaken assumption that growth and godliness can occur apart from testing and trial.  As you read this letter to Smyrna, the question arises as to why they had to undergo further suffering if they had proven themselves faithful already.

In the Bible we find over 250 passages that deal with the subject of suffering and testing.  Often people assume that the reason they are going through a trial is due to some unconfessed sin.  In studying the over 250 verses on suffering, here is what you discover concerning God's purposes behind it:

a. 30 of the passages on suffering deal with God using it  to advance His Kingdom
b. 79 passages have to do with correcting behavior or heart motives.
c. 145 passages have to do with purifying or strengthening of faith

In other words, roughly 2 out of three passages in the Bible that deal with suffering or trial have God using it for reinforcing the Christian's faith.  Even in those other passages that are corrective, the correction is not destructive but constructive.  So when you think about it, every single time God is putting you to the test, He is doing it for your good and for His glory. God will permit trials into you life to strengthen your faith - i.e storms  of strengthening. (2 Corinthians 4:18)  At times God will permit testings to purify you in areas you're already doing well in - i.e storms of purification. (1 Peter 1:6-7) Lastly, God will allow storms to enter into your life that will for instance stir up affection for Christ and people that had maybe gone cold or was in need of added passion - i.e storms of correction. (Romans 5:3-4) 

Truly courageous faith cannot be courageous faith unless it is given the opportunity to either shut down or persevere.  Courage is forged in the heat of testing.  As Job states in Job 23:10 “But He knows the way I take;
When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold."

More tomorrow...........

1. John Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ - A Commentary. Moody Press. 1966. Page 60. 

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