AGCC Sun. a.m. 10/13/91
#2 (Book of Revelation Series-Addition messages on the 7 Churches)
TEXT:   Rev. 2:8-11; James 1:2-4,12
INTRO: In western society we have been raised to believe that wealth brings happiness and joy ... that poverty brings pain and ignorance. Our lives are heavily geared around making more money, gaining more things, always looking for carefree living.
Ironically, those who are the wealthiest are far from the happiest people. The Bible teaches that there are 2 kinds of wealth ... that of this world, and that of the Kingdom of God!
While the world's wealth is not easy to gain that of the Kingdom is available to all at any time! Many times worldly wealth gets in the way of spiritual wealth, hence Jesus' statement to His disciples that "it is easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!"
ILLUS:One day a certain old rich man of a very miserable disposition visited a rabbi. The rabbi took him by the hand and led him to a window. "Look out this window and tell me what you see," said the rabbi to the rich man. "I see fathers, mothers, children, and other people". Again the rabbi took the rich man by the hand and led him to a mirror in the room. Again the question by the rabbi, "Now what do you see?" The rich man responded, "I see myself". Then the rabbi made his point, "Both the window and this mirror are made of glass, the mirror however has been coated with silver, and no sooner than this silver has been added to the glass and it causes you to see no one but yourself ... how like this riches can be. Wealth's addition to our lives can cause us to see only our own life ... and no one else!"
Do we seek spiritual riches with the same tenacity and efforts that we are seeking worldly wealth?
PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches that true wealth often comes when we are without this world's wealth. Some of God's great principles of life are best learned in the absences of worldly goods. Suffering is a better teacher than prosperity! Like the crushing of flowers; it is in the crushing that the fragrance is released to bless others nearby!
I. PERSECUTION & POVERTY 2:8-9
A. The Situation 2:8
1. The city of Smyrna unlike some of the other 6 churches mentioned here is today still one of the largest cities in that area (today in Turkey - name is Izmur)
2. The Church here has no word of condemnation by God ... they were a godly Church!
3. The city had a large group of Jewish citizens that were very hostile to the Christians.
4. It was one of the few cities of the time to have a temple for emperor worship.
5. The name of this city, "Smyrna" literally means, "Bitter" or "Myrrh"
a. Myrrh was a perfume used for burials.
b. it was made from a tree resin that was beaten to bring out its fragrance.
6. The city was known as the city "WHO DIED AND CAME TO LIFE AGAIN"
a. it had been totally destroyed at one point ... and much later resurrected back to life! Jesus takes off of this idea in this verse: Rev 2:8 "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."
b. the citizens used this expression to brag about its new found life!
c. Remember the introduction of Jesus to this Church!!
7. The city was also famous for its games ... and garland wreathes for winners!
8. The city had powerful trade guilds ... major industries included idolatry, such as the great temple to Bacchus, the god of wine.
a. the poverty of these Christians was undoubtedly related to these trade guilds.
b. These uncompromising Christians were kicked out of the trade guilds, thus losing their means of living. They gradually entered into poverty, abject poverty!
c. Many of them who once had thriving businesses were forced into bankruptcy or compromise ... they chose bankruptcy over compromise!
d. those who had been part of the Jewish community were now declared, "Non-Jews" they were no longer considered by the Jewish community a part of "God's chosen people!" ("afflictions" - literally, "a burden that crushes")
B. The Stress 2:9
1. They lost their cultural identity because of their commitment to Christ.
2. they lost their means of living.
3. They lost their wealth.
4. They lost their acceptance by others outside the Church.
5. They were experiencing bitter suffering and loss without reasons of sin in their lives, struggling with the issue of why a loving and good God would allow this in light of their obvious faithfulness to Christ!
6. Though under stress there is no hint what-so-ever that they were complaining or bitter! -- in fact the evidence in this text suggest the opposite!!
7. There was no light at the end of the tunnel coming ... God adds that more persecution lay ahead of them in fact!
8. The stress level had increased ... and the persecution was now moving toward even death for those Christians.
9. As God's people it is very clear that we are not immune from suffering, but we can avoid it's NATURAL consequences such as anger and bitterness!
a. The pressing circumstances had sharpened their perspective of what really matters in life.
b. the pressures stripped them of focusing only on material things, stripping away these other things had allowed them the freedom to stress spiritual things.
ILLUS:Bees undergo an interesting process to ensure the healthy development of their young. The queen lays each egg in a six-sided cell ... it is then filled with just enough pollen & honey to feed on until the egg reaches a certain stage of maturity. The top is sealed with a capsule of wax. When the baby bee has matured to a certain stage, its resources gone, it must struggle against the wax plug, twisting, digging, straining to poke an opening through it to get out. Even after a hole is created the baby bee must squeeze through it with great difficulty ... but this squeeze allows its ability to fly later! Squeezing though the tight opening scrapes off a membrane on its wings that would not come off later in any other way ... taking off the wax plug to allow it an easy release would doom it to earth, to never fly upward! God allows similar struggles in order to help us fly too!
II. PURPOSE & POWER 2:10 James 1:2-4
A. The Secret 2:10a; James 1:2-4
1. The secret to surviving this kind of stress is proper focus!
a. they had to see beyond the present troubles ... to know that God doesn't allow suffering without purpose! Failure to focus right leads to despair!
b. God's Word to them was in essence this need for focus:
ILLUS:A hurricane is a storm with cyclonic winds that exceed 74 mph. Hail, thunder and lightening accompany the winds to wreak destruction. There is a safe place right in the midst of a hurricane however ... at its eye! In the very center of it is peace! The eye is the focal point. So with us in life's storms, peace is best found at the center and where our focus is on God!
ILLUS: Our Christian life is like a cake mix, all the ingredients mixed together create a wonderful delight to the pallet, however, many of the ingredients alone would cause us to gag! Things like alum, baking powder, even flour alone would not excite us or taste too good! It is all these things mixed together in right amounts that make a wonderful cake! This is the meaning in Rom. 8:28 "All things MIXED together work to our good!" --even the bitter stuff!
2. It is in this same context of a cake mix that we understand JAMES 1:2-4
a. Being grateful for trials because of the fruit of what can come from the experience.
b. knowing that it is these experiences that focus us on God and spiritual realities leading to maturity!
c. this maturity enables us to be strong in the Lord and the power of His might!
3. The secret to surviving spiritually the moments of suffering and loss is the know-ledge of more than just the moment ... it is the knowledge that God works all things for our good. God will make a purpose for the suffering.
a. sometimes that purpose is to benefit others.
b. or it may be to benefit us ...
c. or it may just bring glory to God or encourage someone else who suffers!
d. BUT, it is never without some purpose, God's plan is good for us!
B. The Strength 2:10b
1. They would be stronger spiritually because of what they went through and so would their testimony!
a. indeed this proved to be true, even up to today!
b. Because of their commitment to Christ even today there is a thriving community of Christians within this same city, one of the largest cities in Turkey today!
c. The very Pastor who was killed from this Church (John's disciple Polycarp) still has his grave within this modern city as a testimony of his faith!
2. Their strength has given strength to others throughout generations to hold fast to Christ!
3. The Church's Pastor at the time John wrote this was a man by the name of Polycarp.
a. we know that he died in 155 AD. and that his final statement before being burned at the stake was "80 & 6 years I have served Him, and He never did me wrong; and how can I now blaspheme my King that has saved me!"
b. He may well have pastored this Church in Smyrna for almost 60 years, starting shortly after the book of Revelation was written. Thus, this prophecy may have been a source of strength for him and the Church to be faithful!
c. Ironically ... those Jews who burned him at the stake did so on a Sabbath, gath-ering the wood against their own laws!
4. Trials are never intended by God to destroy us, but to make us stronger!
ILLUS:A logger in a river was observed by a man to be picking through the trees and separating some from others. When asked, the logger said he was separating the stronger trees from the weaker ones, yet they were all the same variety! The man could not see the difference and so asked how the logger knew which were strong and which weak. To my trained eye I can tell the difference between those grown in the valley and those from the mountaintop, the valley trees are weaker, they grow in rather mild conditions so their wood is more course grained. The ones from the mountain top however have to endure great winds and cold temperatures on a regular basis from the time of being a seedling! This constant stress on them makes their grain very fine and tough, thus toughening them a great deal. They are chosen to make the finest and most durable furniture... weaker grains will not work for masterpieces!! Though the same variety, the tougher circumstances produced the most desirable products, how like this we are spiritually speaking!
5. Strength is created and shown by trials, not in the absence of them!
III. PAYMENT & POSITION 2:10b-11; James 1:12
A. The Surprise! 2:10b; James 1:12
1. The great surprise is that though poor by this world's standards we are becoming rich by God's standards!
2. It is also important to note that God says, "you will suffer...for 10 days..."
a. God would limit the duration of that suffering, it would not go on forever!
b. thus He is in control of all things, even pain!
2. Their loss was very real and very painful. The word used for "poverty" in the earlier verse (9) was the Greek word for "ABJECT POVERTY"... not just "poor"
3. Also; the word used for "afflictions" (vs. 9) translates literally, "SERIOUS TROUBLE" or "A BURDEN THAT CRUSHES" -- not just inconvenience!
4. But it would all lead to a great payment of wealth for them! Their poverty here was driving them toward wealth in God!
5. While painful for the moment, they were becoming a masterpiece of craftsmanship to adorn God's holy temple!
ILLUS:When a wood sculptor wants to create a work of art that will last for generations, he selects a piece of wood and begins carving it, hammering it, shaping it by shaving it... all until it is a work of art that will adorn someone's mantle over a fireplace! There it will be admired over and over while other pieces of wood pass by unnoticed in the fire below it ... they are simply burned away for a moment of use while this chiseled piece of wood remains as a work of art!
6. The great surprise is that they were really not getting poorer but richer!
a. if they were faithful, even to death, they still would be ahead...
b. for their faithfulness they were promised the "crown of life"
c. this meant eternal life ... billions of years of existence with all of God's wealth for the faithfulness of a few dozen years on earth!
d. the exchange rate is unbelievable!
7 In the end the balances will reverse:
a. those who were wealthy now but ignored God would die and leave it all behind, in death they will be completely barren ... full poverty!
b. but for these Christians who in life had nothing, in death they would have everything!
B. The Security 2:11
1. Those with spiritual hearing will understand the role of suffering and the rewards of it! ...
a. they will be secure even when life now robs them of all securities!
b. they will recognize the end product ... security in God!
2. They also understand that death will not hurt them or leave them stripped ... but in fact will usher them into great wealth and life that can never be taken from them!
3. they lived in the present pain with the knowledge of the future for their peace and prosperity!
4. this is what provided them their security ... eternal life in Christ!
5. though they were poor ... they really were quite rich!
CONCLUSION: It is the great weather storms on the elements that break those elements into rich soil, out of which comes the vital growth of plants that supply the fruits that sustain us! So it is with storms of life ... they break down our arrogance and independence, caus-ing us to depend on God-producing in us the fruits of righteousness. An occasional storm can enhance spiritual realities ... grow rich in your poverty!