Revelation - Week III

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Perfect love may cast out fear, but fear is remarkably potent in casting out love.
—P. D. James, English author (1920- )


Brothers and Sisters, how are you going with fear?
What role does fear play in your daily walk with the Lord Jesus?
As we turn to the second letter within the book of Revelation - addressed as it is to Smyrna, Jesus provides some great encouragement that we would do well to consider in our own context.
Of course, for Smyrna, they had a specific set of realities to cope with.
Located just thirty-five miles northwest of Ephesus, unlike the fields that now exist where Ephesus once stood;
today Smyrma is the modern city of Izmir - second largest city in Asiatic Turkey.
But in ancient times Smyrna rivaled Ephesus and Pergamum for power and prestige.
She was renowned for the beauty of her architecture.
On her coinage, the city stamped “first city of Asia in size and beauty”. Which was quite a claim as it was Pergamum that boasted the seat of Roman government and thereby acted in many ways as the designated capital of the region.
During Roman times it became a centre for emperor worship, as well as a centre of learning and writing.

Jesus’ Self- Description

Revelation 1:17–18 NIV - Anglicised
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus chooses to focus on his death and resurrection when addressing Smyrna.
The city itself had been compleytely destroyed 700 years earlier.
It lay in ruins for some 300 years, before literally rising again from the dead to a new and even more prosperous city within the region.
Revelation 2:8 NIV - Anglicised
8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
There’s an intentional goal in choosing certain attributes here - Jesus seeks to draw attention to truths about himself that will serve the church in the future.
Unlike many of the other letters, the Lord finds nothing to criticise about his brothers and sisters here; rather His task seems one of warning, which he lovingly tackles through words of encouragement.

The Encouragement

Revelation 2:9 NIV - Anglicised
9 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.
As with Ephesus, the Lord Jesus wants the church to be aware that their situation is well known to Him.
The word translated ‘affliction’ here, is the same used by Jesus when he describes what will happen to Christians in the last days.
It is the affliction brought about through persecution. Such is this persecution that it has led to their material poverty.
If, as is likely, they have refused to take part in pagan ceremonies, they would certainly have been excluded from normal economic activity and trade.
Either way, in their desire to remain faithful, they have suffered economically.
Their main antagonists seem to be the local Jews.
For many years, Christianity was seen by the Romans as an offshoot of Judaism. As a result, they enjoyed the same measure of protections and exemptions that Jews had from worshipping the Emperor. However, by the mid 60’s of the first century such exemptions were being stripped away.
There was increasing pressure put upon local Jews to denounce their Christian neighbours.
For the Christians of Smyrna, it may well be that they have nothing materially, but the ascended Jesus wants them to know that from His perspective they are rich!
Notice, however, Jesus is not only concerned that they know their eternal destiny - He is also concerned about how they live in the present.
And so He gives them an exhortation:

The Exhortation

Revelation 2:10 NIV - Anglicised
10 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.
In the midst of Roman power, the loyalty of the local inhabitants to their Emperor and their worship of him as a god, Jesus says:
Do not be afraid...
The Emperor may have his fancy titles, but they are no match for those given to the ascended Lord Jesus.
He is far superior to even the power and might of Rome. He is the first and the last, the beginning of the matter and the final full stop to all of history.
Because Jesus died and came back to life again, the Christians in Smyrna can have every confidence that He has the power to look after them and bring them through death to life.
The reference to ten days may remind you of the period of testing that Daniel negotiated with his superiors over the eating from the King’s table.
Daniel 1:8 NIV - Anglicised
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way.
Daniel 1:12 NIV - Anglicised
12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.
Do you remember they went through their initial time of testing , where they took their stand against the King’s commands that would have seen them compromise their faith.
Jesus wants the Christians in Smyrna to know that this coming period through which they will indeed need to endure, is time limited.
But more than that, he seeks to help them understand that though the devil intends through his actions their harm, God’s intention is to use this testing time to prove their loyalty and the authenticity of their faith as His children.
In other words, all the devil can throw at them, will only serve to confirm their eternal statis as the true people of God and inheritors of his promises made ‘yes’ in Christ Jesus.
Of course, Jesus exhortation doesn’t stop at encouraging them not to be afraid - there is a call to remaining faithful to the very end.

The Promise

At the end of verse 10, Jesus promises to give this disciples the crown of life. He goes further...
Revelation 2:11 NIV - Anglicised
11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Of course, with his words to those who overcome, he also extends a promise for his followers today.
There will be times we are not held in high esteem by those around us.
We may even be ridiculed for our faith, for the choices we make and the decisions for Christ we take.
The world may put these persecuted Christians to death, but they will be raised to life and need have no fear of the judgment of God.
The Crown of life...
No second death...
Fortunately, at least for now, we suffer in comparison limited effects for choosing Christ.
But as I have been reflecting on Jesus’ words about fear, about overcoming and remaining faithful - it’s got me wondering about the impact of the prevailing culture around us today.
I appreciate that fear probably isn’t something we have to avoid when we think about the relationships we have with family and friends who don’t share our faith, but I reckon fear plays more of an adverse role in our daily walk with God than we possibly even realise.
In Australia our broadsheet newspapers are similar to those in the UK, in that they are places where talented cartoonists express their art and ability to capture the social mood of the day.
Michael Leunig is one such cartoonist.
In one of his pieces he noted the following:
Michael Leunig
I wonder what aspects of our Christian lives are lived out through fear?
Perhaps your initial reaction is to deny fear has any role to play in your Christian life.
At a push, you might agree with me that there could be an element of fear that stops you from sharing your faith with others - fear of rejection is probably the most common in this area.
But what about more subtle fears?
Fear of change?
What is this going to mean for me? How is this going to impact my need to be fulfilled, to have my individual expectations met?
Fear of commitment?
What if I get stuck having to do it again and again? What if people’s expectations are beyond my capacity or desire to give?
Fear of failure?
What if I don’t meet the standards I have placed on myself or the standards others might place on me?
Of course, that opens up another sermon on who is setting the standards, are they real or perceived and do they even matter in the eternal scheme of things?
But we’ll leave that for another time.
Fear of being exposed
What will they think of me when they realise that I don’t know anything about this subject?
Fear of making yourself vulnerable?
What if they think me weak or weird?
Fear of missing out - FOMO?
What if a better offer comes up? What if I don’t have enough time to do what I really want to do? Some might say - edging your bets.
These are quite common fears - but when they come up against God’s call on our life, they all share one thing in common.
They impact negatively upon our ability to be faithful; to truly live a life of discipleship and obedience that points to a truly saving faith that is transforming our hearts and minds for Christ.
All those fears may lead to:
A critical spirit
A self preserving spirit
A self protecting spirit
A reluctance to move from the fringes of Church Community life.
All responses that effectively build walls.
Walls that block or diminish the potential power of God’s word and Spirit that would otherwise seek to heal and transform us, that we might be whole and live the abundant life that Jesus came to offer us.
More than the effect on us as individuals, they also block our ability to embrace the community life into which saving faith calls us, dampening the witness to those around us; limiting the way in which we live for the kingdom.
But what if, instead of fear, we choose love as the core motivating factor in our walk with Jesus?
Love for God and Love for each other?
What difference might that have on our day to day lives and our witness to those around us?
How might abandoning fear and taking up love help us to overcome and remain faithful to the end?
Remember these words are written as coming from the mouth of the ascended Lord Jesus - so they most have significance for those who would follow him.
How might your daily walk with God be, if you surrended to Him as someone who loves him
Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV - Anglicised
5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Would you not long to enjoy His presence with you, to hear Him speak to you through His word, to trust Him with every aspect of your life?
And as the Spirit breaks through, might you really come to know and experience what it truly means to be ‘in Christ’?
Romans 8:1 NIV - Anglicised
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
To be so inimately connected to the True Vine that HIS
PEACE is yours
Joy is yours
Resurrection Life is yours
Assurance is yours
Some of you may be thinking - he’s lost his marbles.
That’s not even possible - or if it is it is for the super spiritual, nut jobs, who don’t have their head in reality...
No brothers and sisters…that’s fear talking...
Sure, it also has to be said that it won’t stop people from letting you down.
It won’t mean all of a sudden people will see things from your perspective,
or that you will be protected from health issues,
or that you will become more wealthy or popular.
Infact, it may even come with persecution of one kind or another...
But we needn’t be surprised at that - because we have been put on notice by Jesus himself that the path to glory is difficult, is narrow and challenging, comes with suffering - there are things we will lose...
But what we gain is the crown of life in the future and a life lived now more fulfilled and complete than we could ever imagine.
Of course, fear will stop us from even stepping forward or will cloud our minds as we do and have us retreating back at the first hurdle.
Love, on the other hand, will keep us firmly planted on the solid rock of Christ.
Why not give it a go and let me know how God works out His plans and purposes for you as you step forward with Him.
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