CHURCH AUTOPSY – FAINTHEARTED by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC
Introduction: Fear can be a very effective tool to control people. Would you agree with that? News media uses it to control the masses. Governments use it to control the policies. Big Corporations use it to dominate the market. Unfortunately, Christians are not immune to fear. In fact, if we’re not careful, fear can be a choice weapon in the hands of the Enemy to keep God’s people from stepping forward in the plan God has for us. We are in our series titled “Church Autopsy,” where we are examining what went wrong with the seven churches of Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation. Today our message is on Smyrna, the second church on the list, and the message is titled “Fainthearted.” Main point: Times of testing are inevitable for the church, even for individual believers. We must recognize that God allows us to go through trials to purify us while the Enemy wants to use them to terrify us. Every trial has a lifecycle and then follows the evaluation. Instead of walking in fear, we must walk in faith, and we will receive the crown of life.
Revelation 2:10 “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Context: The City of Smyrna (present day Izmir) had two beginnings. The ancient or Old Smyrna was established as an Aeolian city in the eleventh century BC. One of its claims to fame was that it was the home of the Greek poet Homer (the one who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey). Many of you may not know that his original name was Melesigenes (born of Meles, the river that flowed by the city). Later, the Ionians drove out the Aeolians in the 8thcentury BC. Finally, the Lydian king Alyattes destroyed Smyrna around 600BC. For the next three hundred years, it sat as a village. In the 4th century BC it was re-founded. An old tradition has it that Alexander the Great fell asleep after a hunt and had a dream that he should establish a new city at the foot of Mount Pagus. His successors, Antigonus and Lysimachus, were actually responsible for its new beginning. Because of its location, it became a major seaport. Some of the coins found there read “First of Asia in beauty and size.” Of course, nearby Ephesus and Pergamum contested over that title. It had the title of neokoros (temple keeper, I mentioned that in the video). It had a population of around 100,000 to half a million people. I can go on and on, but let me shift gears here and talk about how Christianity came to Smyrna. To be honest, we don’t know for sure. Maybe, there were Jewish people from Smyrna who were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Or, maybe Paul came there on his way to Macedonia, after he had to flee from Ephesus. Nonetheless, as will see in a moment, the Jewish community in Smyrna was divided between those who had accepted Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah and those who had rejected him. Unfortunately, those who had rejected him were persecuting those who had received him.
Application: When you follow Christ, sometimes your worst enemies will be members of your own household. Are you facing such persecution? It may not be on the same level of persecutions in some countries, but it is personal. My dad was kicked out of his family. I can’t imagine how he must have felt. Yours may be as simple as not getting invited to certain get-togethers or having people bad mouth you for how you are raising your family. How do you handle it?
Just like the Church in Ephesus, Jesus had to send a letter of warning to Smyrna as well. As I mentioned last week, all 7 letters have the same format. To keep in line with the medical imagery of the autopsy, each point has a medical reference, which will be in each message in this series.
Revelation 2 8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.”
This is a reference to the Old Testament:
- Isaiah 41:4 Who has performed and done it, Calling the generations from the beginning? “I, the LORD, am the first; And with the last I am He.’ ”
- Isaiah 44:6 “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God.”
- Isaiah 48:12 “Listen to Me, O Jacob, And Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last.”
In other words, Jesus is God, and he is sovereign.
Smyrnaeans may have also heard that it’s not Smyrna that is “first: but Jesus. Also, just as Smyrna died and came back to life, Jesus who was dead came back to life.
Application: As you are facing your trials, do you know that Jesus is totally in control? We say that as a cliché, but do we truly believe that?
Revelation 2 9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)…”
Many scholars think that unlike the other churches, Jesus did not have anything negative to say to the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia. I disagree. Tucked in that verse is an indictment. These people were beginning to feel the financial pinch when they were losing contracts and being cut out off deals. They may have been complaining about their “tribulation and their poverty.” What they had forgotten was that they were rich!
- Matthew 10 21 “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
- 2 Timothy 3 10 But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
- 1 Peter 4 12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you…”
- Hebrews 10 32 “But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated.”
There was another indictment. 9 “…and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer…” Fear was plaguing the church in Smyrna. As I mentioned in the opening, fear is the choicest weapon of the Enemy against Christians and the church. Jesus gives a strong curse against the persecuting Jewish community. By the way, it’s one thing for John (full-fledged Jewish person) to call his own people out than for us to say it.
Application: Are you facing persecutions? Do you know that this part of the Christian life? Are you afraid? Have you become fainthearted?
Revelation 2:10 “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer…”
This is not an assurance. It is a command.
For e.g. For a brief period, my family and I had to suffer persecution in India when our power was cut off. It is tough when the temperature was 120F. Next door was a mission bungalow that was temporarily under some conflict, but the caretaker was willing to run us a line so we could have some power for the fridge and fan. Then, he got angry and cut off our power. Thank God that he stepped in and another railway officer came and restored our power.
10 “…Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested…” I don’t know what the future holds for our wonderful nation. Hopefully, we can fend off the attacks in our generation. How about the next? We need to train them. That’s why I believe in being active in politics and community. Having said that, we need to be aware that this day may come.
Trials will have a lifespan. 10 “…and you will have tribulation ten days.” Compare with Daniel 1 11 So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king’s delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants.” 14 So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days. 15 And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies. 16 Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17 As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
10 “…Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” This is not the diadem but the stephanos for athletes. Also, James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” A big part of the Christian life is a race and a fight not some entitlement. There are things that come by grace and then there are things that God wants us to work for.
Application: Are you tempted to be afraid? Fear is the Enemy’s choicest weapon against God’s people. He tests us with lots of “what ifs.” What is your “what if?”
11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ’
Second death is not found in the Old Testament but in ancient Judaism (targums – Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bibles). Separation of the soul from the body vs separation of the soul from God.
Revelation 21 6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Did you know that cowardliness is on the same level as a sexually immoral person!
Invitation: Are you the cowardly? If you know Jesus as your Savior and King, you don’t have to fear.