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Called to Suffer

Revelation 2:8-11

“’Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

‘I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

‘Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.'”

suffer

Ancient Smyrna

The community is located approximately forty miles north of Ephesus on the east shore of the Aegean Sea, a harbor town with an important road extending eastward providing excellent trade from the rich valley nearby.

Smyrna was a proud and beautiful city with a famous stadium, library, and public theater. The city maintained a strong allegiance to Rome. The large Jewish population was actively hostile to the Christian population.

On threat of death, Emperor worship was compulsory for every Roman citizen. Citizens were required to burn incense and say, “Caesar is Lord”.

Early martydom

Polycarp, an early church leader in Smyrna, was instructed to worship Caesar but he refused.

Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and He has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

An angry mob grabbed him and placed him on a stake to burn. “It is well,” said Polycarp, “I fear not the fire that burns for a season, and after awhile is quenched. Why do you delay? Come, do your will.”

As the flames of the fire began to burn he prayed,

I thank Thee that Thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour, that I may receive a portion in the number of the martyrs, in the cup of Thy Christ.”

Spiritual wealth

Jesus recognizes the believers in Smyrna as economically poor but spiritually rich. The antagonistic environment towards followers of Jesus made it difficult for them to make a living. As a result of their suffering, however, they experienced extra grace.

Promised persecution

Jesus considers followers blessed as they are persecuted, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” (Matt. 5:11)

Paul affirms that believers will be persecuted, “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12)

Amidst persecution, Jesus tells His disciples not to fear, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28)

The church is called to suffer.”

The persecuted church

“Voice of the Martyrs” lists an online newsroom detailing the stories of persecuted Christians around the world. Pakistan, Tanzania, Iran, Indonesia, Sudan and Nigeria are just a few of the many places where they are persecuted for their faith.

In many stories you find joy in the midst of persecution. James wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

John Stott shares, “As gold is purified of dross in the furnace, so the fires of persecution can purge our Christian faith and strengthen our Christian character. We need to look beyond the trial to the purpose, beyond the pain of the chastening to its profit.” (What Christ Thinks of the Church, p. 47)

Enduring hardship

Persecution can be endured as long as there is hope. Divine assurance of everlasting life with God and other believers is the greatest hope in life.

The promise

A crown of life is promised to those who remain faithful while enduring suffering. Citizens of Smyrna, famous for its games, would have easily recognized the crown that goes to the victor.

Overcomers are not harmed by the second death, eternal separation from God. William Barclay summarizes, “Fidelity to Christ may bring death on earth, but it brings life in eternity. Infidelity may save a man’s life on earth, but in the end it brings something far worse; it brings the death of the soul. The man who is faithful unto death dies to live; but the man who saves his life at the cost of principles and at the price of his loyalty to Christ lives to die.” (Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 28)

The message today

Are you afraid of facing hardships because of faith? Have you allowed daily pressures to affect the way you live as a follower of Jesus?

As you become more like Christ, persecution may come. Put your trust in the First and the Last who promises eternal life to those suffering.

The challenge

Endure suffering and hardship as part of living in His kingdom. An eternal reward is promised by remaining faithful until the end.

What persecution have you faced for your faith?  Share your comments below.