Are you facing suffering today? There are many aspects of human suffering, or pain in the broader sense. There is psychological suffering: depression, anxiety, loneliness, grief from a death, a divorce or a broken friendship. Maybe that’s where you are today. You have emotional pain. Then, there is physical suffering: sickness, injury, declining health, sleep deprivation, even the pain of hunger, thirst and shelter for the impoverished. And the minute we put suffering into these two categories of psychological and physical, we have to understand that one affects the other. The pain of the body affects the mind, and the suffering of the mind affects the body. We all want to avoid suffering don’t we? But isn’t suffering and pain inevitable in this life? And since it is, wouldn’t you like help in how to face suffering when it comes?
That’s where the believers in Smyrna were. They were suffering tribulation and poverty and Jesus sent a letter to help them face it. In the book of Revelation, Jesus told John to write a letter to the church of Smyrna to help them with the suffering they were facing. We can receive Christ’s help when we face suffering.
Below is an automated transcript of this messageGood morning church! It’s good to see all of you here in person and those of you that are watching online. We are happy to be with you today as we continue our series through the first three chapters of the book of Revelation. We’ve entitled this series, “Letters from Jesus,” because indeed, that’s who this book is from. He has instructed the apostle John to write letters to the seven churches. As we’ve said previously, the number seven is the number of completion. It’s not just to those seven churches, but it’s to every church that follows Jesus. It’s to this church and it’s to you; we’re talking about that today.
Today, we will be in chapter two, talking about the letter that Jesus told John to write to the church at Smyrna. We’ve entitled this particular sermon, “A letter to the Suffering.” I wonder today if you know someone, or maybe you are facing a time of suffering in your life right now, and you are going through a time where there’s tribulation. Is there affliction , is there difficulty in your life today? If so, you’re in the right place, whether you are watching online or in person, this sermon is to you. It comes across the ages, but it’s just as relevant today as it was to the people of Smyrna.
Jesus has told John to send a letter to the church toe. Help us be encouraged through a time of suffering. There are many aspects of human suffering or pain in the broader sense. We all experience it in unique ways. It’s difficult to say, I know how you feel, just as it’s difficult for you to hear, I know how you feel. We say these things, but yet, we all have kind of a singular individual experience, and some pain is psychological. It has to do with the mental and emotional state of our lives; depression, anxiety, loneliness, grief, the loss of a loved one, a broken marriage or relationship. These are of the mind and of the emotion. Then there’s physical suffering, sickness, injury, declining health, getting older, arthritis and sleep deprivation. For some, even the pain of hunger,nakedness and lack of shelter; this is not so much in our part of the world, although it still remains even here. But, in many parts of the world, that’s the pain of the impoverished. The minute we try to divide suffering into these two categories, psychological or physical, we have to remember that we’re complex beings and one affects the other. If you’re experiencing emotional pain, it’ll often have physiological consequences. It’ll affect your body and vice versa. If you’re struggling physically, you’re going through a time of illness, it might cause you to be depressed or affect you psychologically. We are complex beings, yet we were made in the image of God.
Suffering in one place of our lives might cause suffering in another. Suffering is real, and we all want to avoid it, don’t we? We all would just prefer to cover it up, medicate it with something, pretend like it isn’t there, through positive thinking our way through it. Pretending like it’s not there. But, isn’t suffering and trouble inevitable in this life?
If you’re young, maybe you don’t know this yet, but the answer is yes. It is inevitable, and since it is, would you like to know how to face it? This is what this letter is about. Jesus is speaking to the believers in Smyrna, but he’s also speaking to us.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus told John to write a letter to the Church of Smyrna to help them with the suffering they were facing. I believe that this letter is to us too, so that we can face suffering with Jesus. And as we look at the text today, I think we’ll discover three encouraging words for receiving Christ’s help as we face suffering. Are you ready? Let’s dig in.
Revelation 2:8-11 (ESV) 8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ This is God’s word.
How Jesus helps us to face suffering:
Look at verse nine and circle that word, fellowship, in your text and in your notes. There are two Greek words that could be translated. One has to do with intellectual knowledge and the other has to do with experiential knowledge. It has more of the aspect of, “to see and experience.” The Greek word is the latter. Jesus has felt what you’re feeling. He’s been through what you are going through, and He knows. No one else in the world knows like He knows, Not only has He felt what you felt, but He feels it with you now as a believer because He dwells and abides within you. He knows. He says, in verse 9, “I know your tribulation…” Does that matter to you? Oh, it matters to me. Even my spouse, who often tells me what I’m thinking with great accuracy, as she will remind me from time to time, I know what you’re thinking. Well, maybe she does. But even she, after 41 years of marriage, doesn’t know me the way Jesus does. You see, suffering and pain is like you’re trapped inside of a building that no one else can enter. It’s unique to you, which causes many of us to come to such a point of despair that we try to medicate it, cover it up, run from it or power our way through it. People come to us and say, you ought to do better. You have to work harder… They don’t know how it feels to be you. Jesus knows, and He invites you into fellowship with Him. He helps you carry your burden of suffering.
Now listen, friends, if you came today hoping that Pastor Gary would give you a way out, that’s not a good theology of suffering. The prosperity theologians would say, if you only believed hard enough, if you only kept a positive way of thinking enough, you could avoid pain. But, that’s not the theology of the Bible . The theology of the Bible actually is made of sterner stuff. It helps us go through this life with real help. Often, we are called to go through suffering. He says, “I know…” and that makes a big difference. He invites you into being in fellowship with Him so that you’re not alone in your suffering.
Let’s keep going. He says to the angel of the church of Smyrna. We’ve worked on this for the last couple of weeks. The word, ángelos, in the Greek, means messenger. They left it untranslated. They left it in the Greek. But really, I think it would have been better served to just say to the messenger, because I think that’s what it’s saying. I actually have a strong opinion that I know who this particular messenger was. Chronology and first century fathers have written on such things; it appears to be the pastor, Polycarp. That’s a great name; I don’t know what his mom was thinking when she named him. Ok, let’s not judge old Polycarp. He was born in 69 AD; he died a martyr’s death in 155 AD in the stadium of Smyrna. He was a student of John the beloved. John. In his elder years, the bishop of Ephesus and of all Asia Minor, trained a young pastor in his late twenties, early thirties. Polycarp was this pastor. I believe that when he got this letter from his bishop, John, he was thrilled, but then also steeled to what was before him. I believe this letter was sent to Polycarp to the church of Smyrna. Its modern day name is Izmir. If you visit the nation of Turkey today, we, in the Bible, read it as Asia Minor. Today, we call it Turkey.
It’s time for some slides; here they come. Here is the first slide. The first slide is a map. You’ll recall that Patmos is where John is at. He’s been exiled. He’s breaking rocks and living in a cave. But on the Lord’s Day, he was in the spirit and he saw a revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said to write a letter to the churches, John wrote them, and we have them today. It’s called The book of Revelation (not revelations.) It’s in the plural; it’s one book and it’s about Jesus. It’s the revelation of Jesus Christ.
John is on the Isle of Patmos; he wrote the first letter to the church at Ephesus. We talked about that last week. Now, the second letter goes to Smyrna. You’ll see that Smyrna has a beautifully protected natural harbour. They didn’t have to really do much to make it better. And to this day, it rivals the capital of Istanbul as the third most populous city in modern Turkey. It is gorgeous. I’ve been there; it’s a beautiful place. Their harbor is second only to Istanbul. It continues, to this day, to be beautiful. Here is an overview of what Smyrna, or as they call it Izmir today, That’s what it looks like. It’s a beautiful city. You can see how it’s surrounded by mountains. There is an archaeological dig in the center of the city. It’s hard to uncover the ruins of ancient Smyrna there because the city has been continuously inhabited for 3000 years; layer upon layer of the city is built on the ruins.You can see the example of Roman archways, which was one of the technological advances that the Romans introduced that created vast open spaces. This is an ancient basilica that goes back to the first century; Polycarp, John and others would have no doubt walked on these grounds. Here I am in Smyrna; this is my proof of being present there, right? I’m standing here with my little leather Bible in my hand; I’m reading this book of Revelation, and I’m thinking about Polycarp and John and how they probably walked on these very places in this ancient Roman basilica.
In this picture, you’ll see that there’s still a fountain there today that the Romans built the plumbing for; water still runs in it 2000 years later. This is a real place. These were real people. The Bible is so; it’s not mythology. It’s true. It really happened; you can go there. This is Smyrna. The name Smyrna comes from the word, myrrh; myrrh was the aromatic resin that was applied to a body after it had deceased to prepare it for burial. It often was a synonym for suffering. Do you remember that myrrh was one of the three gifts that Wise Men gave to Jesus at His birth. This was an unusual gift for a baby.
Smyrna is known as the Crown of Asia; remember how we talked about those mountains that encircle it to this day. As they encircled it during the first century, anyone visiting there would have seen multiple temples all along the way.
J. Vernon McGee writes in his commentary, ”The city was adorned with noble buildings, beautiful temples–– a temple of Zeus, of Cybele (Diana), of Aphrodite, of Apollo, and a temple of Asclepius (god of medicine, staff with a snake around it). It had a theater, an odeum (music center), and a stadium.” If you’re not remembering who that Greek god, Asclepius, was, the next time you go to the doctor, look at the symbol with the staff and the snake wrapped around it. You’ll see that he was the Greek god of healing. They had a theater, they had a music centre. They had a stadium. It was a beautiful city known as the Crown of Asia, because the mountains, with its temples and its flowers, looked like a crown when you came into the harbor. You’ll see why that’s important as we continue.
This is a city that had one of the greatest populations of Christians even into the modern time. During the first World War, the Turks allied with the Germans and they lost. They lost the Ottoman Empire, they lost the Middle East, but they decided to cleanse, systematically cleanse, what was left of Turkey, what was left of the Ottoman Empire of its Christians. Scholars have called it the first genocide of the 20th century. Between 1914 and 1922 they systematically murdered an estimated 3.5 million Christian Greeks and Armenians. Today, that’s been somewhat covered up, but I have a photo here of allied ships sitting in the ocean while Smyrna burned in September 1922, when Mustafa Ataturk led the Turkish army there to wipe out what was left of what they called the City of Infidels because of the large Christian population there.
Smyrna indeed has suffered, and even to this day it’s difficult to be a Christian in Turkey, as Erdoğan, the president of that country, has now overturned the Hagia Sofia into a mosque and is continuing to persecute Christians there. Turkey is a difficult place to be a Christian.
Jesus writes this letter to Smyrna, preparing them so they know what it will be like and what it will cost to follow him . He identifies himself. He doesn’t give his name. Remember how he’s doing this? He is writing to the messenger at the church of Smyrna; right now, he doesn’t say it’s from Jesus. Jesus tells John to tell them this part of the revelation I gave you back when you were on the Isle of Patmos. To the church at Ephesus, Jesus said to tell them the part about how I’m an authority over them. Tell them how I walk among the seven lamp stands and hold the seven stars in My right hand.
Jesus had a correction for Ephesus; remember how you have forsaken your first love and you need to repent. Jesus has a correction for five of the seven churches, but for two, he has no correction. Smyrna is one of the two. Philadelphia is the second, where there’s no correction and only encouragement. It’s a tough encouragement, but it’s encouragement with no correction. Jesus tells John to say these things about Him to the church Smyrna. To them, He reveals Himself as “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” That’s important for you people in Smyrna because you’re suffering; it has a beginning, a middle and in the end, and I was there at the beginning, I’ll be with you through the middle and I’ll be with you at the end. The suffering is not permanent.
And then, He reveals this part of Himself to them. He says, “I’m the one who died and came back to life.” The worst kind of suffering, can only kill the body but it cannot kill the believer because the believer only dies once. He lives forever. She lives forever. He reveals the aspects; he says, “I suffered, I died and I defeated sin, death and the grave.” That’s the part he wanted the people of Smyrna to know.
This is the One who says, I know you. I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there and I’m with you right now. I’m the first and the last. I’ve defeated sin, death and the grave. I can handle what you’re going through. Let Me fellowship with you because I know your tribulation. In other words, He knows our anguish; He knows our affliction. He knows our persecution. He knows you are suffering.
He knows you are in poverty. Look at verse nine, “I know your poverty.” He says something funny here; funny, in the sense that the translators put it in parentheses. “I know you’re poverty, (but you’re really rich.)” You’re actually rich but you know you’ve been stripped down to the bone. You’re laying on your face and the only way you can look is up. And the only thing you can do is pray. All you have left is Jesus. You find out that you’re actually rich because He’s enough and all this other stuff is just not going to hold up. Sometimes that’s all the way we can learn because we’re hard headed and hard hearted. The only way we can learn is to get down under affliction and suffering. In some ways, it’s a gift, so that we learn the lesson of what really matters and what really holds up is there is fellowship with Jesus Christ. He knows that you’re poor, but you’re really not because He has you.
It reminds me of what James said over in James 1:9-10 (NLT) 9 “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them.” It’s kind of like what Stephen said earlier in his commentary on those verses during our worship time, where, he said, “if you’re leaning on the world, it’s like you’re leaning on darkness, which actually puts you into a deeper darkness because it’s faulty, it won’t hold you up.” It’s good for us to recognize. I need to be humble because this stuff won’t hold up, I need to depend on the Lord.
Then He says, I know your tribulation. I know your poverty. I know you’ve been slandered. I know you’ve been lied about. I know there’s some religious people out there putting you down. The interesting Greek word for slander is “blasphemy.” Jesus knows there are people blaspheming you and lying about you. He names them; he says they claim to be Jews, but they’re not. There are those who say they are Jew and they are not; they are a synagogue of Satan. Strong words.
Who are these guys? Well, we could look over to Romans and see Paul talking about them. He says in Romans 2:28-29 (NLT) 28 “For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. 29 No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God…” And so, it’s a matter of the heart, not the outward. It’s not a matter of where you were born. The same could be said of a true Christian. You have heard me say, “being in a garage doesn’t make you an automobile.” You could go to church every Sunday, and sit in this building, but it doesn’t make you a Christian by just going through the outward motions. It’s a matter of your heart; being right with God.
So, there’s some religious people in Smyrna, and they’re lying about you. They’re trying to get you in trouble, and if they have their way, they’re going to get you thrown in prison. They’re not real believers; they’re claiming to be, but they’re actually from the synagogue of Satan. Satan hates the church. He goes on; he continues to carry that thought forward in the next verse, verse 10. We will get to that in a second. It says in the Greek New Testament, those who are from the synagogue of Satan.
Paul wanted to know this fellowship of suffering. Paul said in the book of Philippians, Philippians 3:10 (HCSB) “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings …” I want to be in His fellowship, he said. I want to know Jesus so well, even in suffering; I want to know him in that way, too. That’s when you really know somebody; suffering reveals character. > Speaking of suffering, Paul talks about it in 2 Corinthians, He says, 2 Corinthians 1:4-5 (NLT) 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.”
There’s something that happens when a believer suffers and he leans into fellowship with Jesus. Instead of isolating, he leans in closer. It says this, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others when they are troubled. We will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us for the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.”
There’s a kind of suffering you could do on your own out of fellowship, and it won’t result in this comfort. You isolate yourself. I’ll get through this. But, when you suffer for Christ or with Christ, there’s a comfort that comes and it comes in excess. In other words, in surplus, so that you have enough to comfort others who are suffering as you are.
A member of our church was seated here, in our first service; she has gone through breast cancer. I still remember her talking about when she was taking chemo that she would be in that room whether there were little lounge chairs and chemo was being administered through an IV. She and other cancer patients would have to lie still for a certain amount of time. There were several in the room with her and they’re going through it together. They would have a similar time of day each week where they would see each other. She felt called to talk to them. Her husband told the story of how the people there couldn’t wait to be with her, like she was a light. I’ve asked her, How did you do this? And she would reply, it wasn’t me; there was so much comfort coming from Jesus, it just flowed out of me to them. Suffering is what exposed that comfort; it would never have come because it wouldn’t have been needed. But since it was needed, more than enough came and then it overflowed. If you suffer with Jesus for Jesus, comfort comes and comfort comes in surplus.
I probably wouldn’t be your pastor today had my father not died when I was eight years old. I had such a deep psychological wound, a father wound, for so many years. God healed me and gave me excess fathering comfort so that I have this comfort within me to lead and feed and care for a flock. I probably wouldn’t have this if I had not have gone through that suffering; my personality was shaped not by my greatest strengths, but my deepest pains. Suffering without God is meaningless. God exists and if suffering passes through His fingers to touch us, then it has purpose. Comfort is part of it, so that we know the comfort of Christ in the midst of our suffering. Our deepest life purpose often comes out of our deepest life pain. Without the pain we wouldn’t find the purpose, but if we go through it within the fellowship of Jesus, we find a place of victory, of comfort and of meaning.
Stop isolating. Stop trying to power through by your own strength. Be in fellowship with Jesus and be in fellowship with His body, which is the church.
Here’s the second encouraging word from Jesus:
Be fearless. Look at verse 10, and circle, “do not fear.” This is in the Greek imperative, which means it’s a command. Do not fear. It’s beautiful in the Greek; it’s in the middle voice. We don’t have it’s equivalent in English language. Middle voice means it’s something that comes from within, not in response to external stimulus but from internal decision. In other words, everything around. You look scared, but because of your trust and your faith in Jesus and because He said, “do not fear,” by faith, do not fear. Literally in the Greek, it’s like zero fear; like the tennis shoe company made the slogan, but Jesus had this long before they came up with it. No fear; fear nothing. Fear only adds to our suffering. It does not help it; it makes it worse. Do not fear. Do not be anxious. Do not worry but believe. Trust. Lean. He says, “Do not fear,” in verse 10.
What you are about to suffer or you have been suffering? There’s something to be said for this. I know what this feels like; it hurts pretty bad, but Jesus is with me and I’m getting through it so I’ve put fear aside. But then, you hear something new is coming that you’ve yet to experience. You think, I’m afraid now because it’s unknown but it’s coming. And He says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” Does that seem encouraging? Jesus has a strange way of encouraging the believers at Smyrna. You’ve been suffering and I know all about it. I’m with you. I know you. You know I need you to listen to me. Don’t be afraid, because more is coming. More suffering is coming and He identifies where it’s coming from.
Remember that synagogue of Satan? They’re going to double down and they’re gonna get the government involved. He says, “Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison.” They’re stirring up trouble in the city of Smyrna, and now this is gonna happen. And we know it does historically, because we have the record of the view. Those who have written first century records of what happened there; the government is against the Christians and Jesus is getting them ready for it. So they go through it fearlessly. He’s not saying that the devil’s coming over with some keys to lock you up personally. What he means is the government’s going to be inspired by the devil to come against the church and lock you up.
The Romans didn’t imprison people for long. If you were in prison, you were just waiting for the trial results because they were either going to set you free or kill you. It was not like you’re going to go to prison later; they weren’t going to pay for you to be in prison. They would just keep you in prison long enough to make a decision about your situation; “Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested.” So, suffering tightens up our fellowship with Jesus if we let it. And if we lean into Him, we receive comfort, which leads to purpose in their lives. He seems to say that it tests the authenticity of our faith. He says that you’re going to be tested; he has a word, “tested,” which could be translated, tried, assayed, proven authentic by examination or trial. So, suffering has no meaning or purpose apart from God, but with God, how you go through suffering can reveal your faith, just as gold is tried in the furnace so that its purity is affirmed. First Peter talks about this. 1 Peter 1:7 (GW) “The purpose of these troubles is to test your faith as fire tests how genuine gold is. Your faith is more precious than gold, and by passing the test, it gives praise, glory, and honor to God.” If your faith does not endure suffering, then your faith is not authentic faith. But any faith that would be authentic will endure suffering and come out on the other side purified greater than it went in.
A difficult phrase follows in verse 10, “and for ten days you will have tribulation.” Well, my goodness. For 2000 years, theologians much greater than “yours truly,” have tried to decipher what these “10 days” are. This little fellow up here is probably not going to do any better than they did. “10 days you will have tribulation.” Some suggest that it was the ten great persecutions that took place between the 1st and 3rd century because you can see that there were clearly ten emperors of Rome, beginning with Nero (64-68 AD) to Diocletian (303-313 AD). There were ten specific persecutions there. Others would say that this was Jesus warning that there are ten persecutions coming, so the ten days was ten seasons. Some would say that the ten days shows that it’s gonna last longer than human endurance could bear. Even a woman who is giving birth to a baby has results in the end. I think maybe the 10 days is saying something like this: It’s past human endurance but it will have a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s certain it’s coming. As the Lord, who is over all things, has put a clock on it so it won’t go past the point where it would be more than then we can handle together in this fellowship. I don’t know, so that’s a possibility.
Here’s another possibility of explanation of “10 days you will have tribulation.” I kind of lean towards this one; he’s still talking about the prison and it’s in the same verse. And it’s in the same context that maybe he’s talking about this testing. Ten days kind of was the Roman average for imprisonment before they decided what to do with you. We won’t know until the end unless somebody comes up with a solution that they found somewhere in the scripture that helps. I don’t know assuredly what that “10 days” means. “10 days you will have tribulation” is coming; more suffering is coming. Be fearless; do not be afraid, He says. No fear.
Jesus has promised, by the way, and this is an unusual promise in John 16:33 (ESV) “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” It’s a strange promise; He promises you one thing that you’re gonna have trouble, okay, but on the other hand, He is overcoming, and if you’re in Him and He is in you , you will overcome. You’ll overcome it in me. You’ll get through this, but it’s coming. Take heart. This is a biblical theology of suffering. This is not a “pie in the sky, Santa Claus” kind of theology. This will get you through this, He says.
Sin has brought suffering into this old broken world, but Jesus is going to fix it someday. In the meantime, He is with you. He overcame it; He is the overcomer that will live in you and make you an overcome,too.
Hall of Fame Green Bay Packer coach, Vince Lombardi, used to lead his players through some of the most horrendous, painful practices in the NFL. When asked why he was so hard on his players in practice, he replied, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” He was determined to make them suffer in practice so they would be fearless in the game.
God wants you to be fearless in life suffering. Sometimes he uses it for our sanctification. Sometimes it’s the only way to get our attention, but it strengthens us so that we could be overcomers and conquerors in life. Will you choose faith over fear? Suffering is inevitable, but with Christ, we can be fearless. We don’t have to be afraid. Fear only hurts us further, but faith builds us up.
Here’s the final word. Here’s the third encouraging word:
Be faithful. Look at verse 10 again and circle, “Be faithful.” You may ask, where do you get these points? Well, it is not that hard. Just study the scripture; let it speak.
This is the second imperative in the Greek New Testament; be faithful. It’s, again, in that middle voice. Be faithful, as a decision from within, not based on externals. Make a decision to be faithful. Keep the faith. He says in verse 10, in the latter part, “be faithful.” This is some kind of faithful; “be faithful unto death.” In other words, hang in there to the end.
Many people begin well, but it’s important to finish well. Be faithful; cross the finish line. lean in, lean across, determined to be faithful through the power of Jesus.
“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” There’s that word, “crown.” Remember, I told you that the nickname for Smyrna was, “the Crown of Asia,” because of how those temples and all the beautiful flowers and trees that they planted along those mountains surrounded the harbor of Smyrna like a crown. They called it Asia Minor. Here again, we see that Jesus knows Smyrna. He says that if you will stay faithful unto death, I’ll give you the crown of life.
There are two crowns in the scripture. One is a stephanos crown, the crown of victory and the other is diadema, which is the crown of royalty. The stephanos crown is the crown of eternal life, given to the one who is faithful unto death. Remember the ancient title of Smyrna; it is “Crown of Asia.” Jesus offers a better crown; this is a stephanos crown. It’s a victor’s crown, one who has run the race and finished it and has overcome. I liked this word so much that I named my first born, its Stephen. His name, Stephanos, means victor’s crown, one who has finished the race and won the crown.
This crown is the one that wraps around the head; it’s made of leaves. If you have ever watched a movie from the Roman times, they would put this kind of crown on the victor. The crown was open in the front , just like Smyrna, which has the harbor coming in. We know Smyrna, the crown of Asia.
If you want a real crown, a crown of eternal life, if you’ll be faithful, that’s what you’ll win in this death. This world is so insignificant compared to eternity. Live it well, be faithful all the way across the finish line. Be the one who conquers. 1 John 5:5 (HCSB) “And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
How do we overcome by our faith? He closes by saying this, 11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ He’s speaking to those who can hear with spiritual hearing that these words are going in; they are not just bouncing off your ears. They’re going in. Some of you may be saying, I needed this. This is helping. This is exactly what I needed. If that’s how you’re feeling right now, then you have spiritual ears to hear. Here’s what He says to you, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” What is the second death that he speaks off? Evangelist D. L. Moody used to say to his congregants, “He who is born once will die twice; he who is born twice will die once.” Do you understand the math? Here’s what he means: if you’ve been born again, spiritually born again of Christ Jesus, you’ve been born twice. When physical, when spiritual, you’ll only die once; the body has to die because it cannot inherit the kingdom. It’s corruptible, and the corruptible cannot inherit the incorruptible. You get a new body, so you only die once. But those who have only been born once, in other words, they’ve not been born again will die twice.
What is the second death? We don’t have to guess in Revelations. I said “revelations;” excuse me. I did the thing I told you not to do. Rev. 20:14 (NKJV) “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” The best way to understand the Bible is to let the Bible define itself, explain itself. What is the second death? It’s death eternal, its death in a place called hell. It’s death, apart from God for eternity. This is the second death. If you are born again and you are an overcomer by faith, keeping the faith, He will give you the crown of life, eternal life, and you’ll never experience the second death.
This is what He says to the church at Smyrna, and this is what He says, “He who has an ear to hear.” He says to the churches, which includes this church, you’ll never experience the second death. You’ll spend eternity with me forever, and it makes everything else pale.
I told you that I would tell you more about Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna and student of the apostle John. He was martyred in the stadium at Smyrna in 155AD. Emperor worship had become compulsory for every Roman citizen annually in Smyrna. They had to appear before the magistrate and burn incense before a figure of the Roman Caesar and say, Caesar is Lord. And then, they would receive a certificate that was good for a year. Because the Caesars had started claiming divinity, it came to Polycarp. This is the first year they’d start doing this; it was in 155 AD. Polycarp comes up; he’s 86 years old now. He’s been a pastor for a long time. He’d received this letter and preached it to his church, no doubt. When it’s his turn to burn the incense and say, Caesar is Lord, he, instead, says, It has been 86 years I’ve served Christ. He’s done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my king now who saved me? And so he refused to say, Caesar is Lord and burn the incense. They begged him; you’re an old man, you don’t have to mean it. They tried everything. He would not do it. Ultimately, the government imprisoned him and then burned him to death in the stadium of Smyrna. Polycarp was the disciple of John and he was faithful to the end yesterday.
I phoned a friend yesterday; He’s one of our ministry partners. Our church supports him and his wife. They minister in Istanbul to the city that’s in Turkey today, the capital. Many of you had him and his wife visit your small groups this past Fall and you know who I’m talking about. They’ve not been able to return because of Covid; they’ve been here raising support to go back. I called him yesterday; the spirit just put it on my heart to call him and check on him. You see, his wife, a few weeks ago, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s had a double mastectomy after the surgery. She had internal bleeding and had to go back in and repair that by the end of the week. She couldn’t see out of her left eye and found out that the pressure change of her blood pressure had affected her vision. This past week, she got sick and was in so much pain. They found out she had a diseased gallbladder, and it was removed. Yesterday, I called him. He was in the parking lot of the hospital, not allowed to go in to see her until a certain hour because of Covid. He was listening to worship music, he said. I asked, How are you? He brought me up to date on what they’ve been through. I said, How can I pray for you, brother? I love this brother. I have known him since college; he was my roommate my sophomore year. He said, Pray that we will be faithful. God’s going to get us through this. We’re not afraid. Jesus is with us. He’s closer than He’s ever been. Pray that we would be faithful. I’m working on a sermon because we’re able to do skype with our church in Turkey. They depend on us. I pray that we’d be faithful. I have to post my sermon, because the church goes live over there; I will post at 3 a.m. Sunday morning, our time. Pray that we would be faithful. Pray that we’ll be able to do what God calls us to do until the end . I find it interesting that he’s ministering to the Turks to the land of Smyrna. He wants to be faithful. I have to admit that I got tears in my eyes praying for him yesterday, and I was glad the spirit told me to call him so I could pray for him as he set in that hospital parking lot in his automobile.
Oh, the fellowship, the comfort, the presence of Jesus, the meaning, the purpose, the fearlessness, the faithfulness. I want to be more like Jesus, don’t you? I want to be in His fellowship. I want to be so marked by that and I want our church to be so marked by that that the world wants to know what we know.
Let’s pray. Lord, oh, that we would be faithful as You were faithful. We want to be faithful. Lord, help us to be fearless and help us to cling to You in fellowship. Lord, I pray for the person who came in today, far from God. You’ve been struggling; maybe you’d call it suffering. You’ve been hurting. You came in here on a thin thread, hoping you’d hear something that would help. Would you come near to God? Here’s how you do it; by expressing your faith in Jesus. He is the bridge between God and man. Would you receive Him now in prayer? You can pray with me right now. Dear Lord Jesus, I believe You died on the cross for my sin, that You were raised from the grave and that You live today. Come and live in me. Forgive me of my sin. I want to live a new life in you. I need strength and fellowship to get me through this life. But more than that, I want You to be my Savior and Lord, I want to be a child of God. If you’re praying that prayer right now, believing, He will save you and adopt you into God’s family. And He will be your comfort, your guide and your strength. Others are here today and you know this Jesus but you’ve been isolating yourself and you’ve been medicating the pain and trying the world’s crutch and it’s not holding up. Would you repent; go through this with Jesus? He wants to be with you; through whatever you’re going through. You don’t have to go through it alone. He wants you to grow in faithfulness. He wants to teach you how you don’t have to be afraid. Would you come to Him now afresh and say, Lord, I believe in You. I lay aside those distractions, those things that only darken my soul. Lord, I want Your help. Lord, give me purpose in my pain. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.