The Bittersweetness of Suffering (Sermon Notes)

The Bittersweetness of Suffering (Sermon Notes)

“Tribulation” This is not the Great Tribulation; it means simply trouble. Since the awful persecution of the church by the Roman emperors is not called the Great Tribulation, surely our small sufferings are not the Great Tribulation. But the church in Smyrna endured much tribulation, and they suffered for the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Suffering is assured to the believers

         It was promised to us by Jesus

John 16:33 “In the world ye shall have tribulation”

Suffering perfects our faith

James 1:2-3 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;  Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

1 Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

 

We sometimes walk through the dark valley of the Shadow of Death

Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

 

There are different types of suffering for the Lord: Persecution, sickness, loss. Any type of suffering is permitted by our Lord Jesus for His glory.

 

“Poverty” denotes the lack of material possessions. The early church was made up largely of the poorer classes. When the wealthy believed in Christ, their property was confiscated because of their faith. “But thou art rich” denotes the spiritual wealth of the church—they were blessed with all spiritual blessings. Notice the contrast to the rich church in Laodicea. To that church He said, “You think you are rich, but you are really poor and don’t know it.”

 

Let me drive this home for you. Neither physical riches nor physical poverty is a measure of God’s favor on your life. It is no sin to be wealthy but it is a sin to lust after money and riches. Any finances that God puts into your hands are for you to use to bless others. (James 1:27)

 

The Christians of Smyrna knew poverty because they were robbed and fired from jobs in persecution for the gospel. Early Christians joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven (Hebrews 10:34). This kind of economic persecution was one important reason why Christians were poor in Smyrna. Even today, this is a common form of persecution against Christians. Think of the bakers who are dragged into the courts or the photographers and florists, all because of their faith and unwillingness to celebrate unrighteousenss.

 

 

“The blasphemy of them which say they are Jews … but are the synagogue of Satan.”  Insofar as we can tell, the synagogue in Smyrna was aiding the Roman persecution of the Jews. These are not Gentiles who call themselves Jews but are not. History tells us they were very hostile to the Church in Smyrna and, consequently, hey are a synagogue of Satan. Perhaps they were like the Members of the Circumcision faction in Galatia, who sought to force non-Jews into receiving circumcision in order to have a relationship with God, thus subjecting themselves and their followers to a legalistic perversion of the Torah. To be clear, this was not all of the Jews in Smyrna and probably not even the Jewish laity. It was most certainly the leaders of the synagogue and, possibly, the more civically prominent members of the congregation.

 

Do not fear: Literally, this is better translated “stop being afraid.” The Christians in Smyrna suffered under persecution, and they were afraid. Sometimes we think that Christians who endure persecution are almost super-human, and we sometimes don’t appreciate the depths of fear they struggle with. There were things which they were about to suffer, and Jesus wanted them ready to stand against those things.

 

“Fear none of those things” is the encouragement of the Lord to His own in the midst of persecutions. This is the second time in this book that the Lord has offered this encouragement. Throughout Church History, especially during the time of the Reformation, we see that multitudes went to their death singing praises to God.

 

 

“The devil [Satan] shall cast some of you into prison.” Christ labels Satan as being responsible for the suffering of the saints in Smyrna. You and I tend to blame the immediate person or circumstance which serves as Satan’s tool, but the Lord Jesus goes back to the root trouble.

 

Remember the story of Job. Satan was given permission to test Job, but within defined limits. No persecution, no suffering comes without the permission of God.

 

“Ye shall have tribulation ten days.”  There are two important points in view here. First, the “10 Days” symbolize 10 periods of persecution under Rome’s emperors.

 

  • Nero—64–68 (Paul was beheaded under his reign)
  • Domitian—95–96 (John was exiled during that period)
  • Trajan—104–117 (Ignatius was burned at the stake)
  • Marcus Aurelius—161–180 (Polycarp was martyred)
  • Severus—200–211
  • Maximinius—235–237
  • Decius—250–253
  • Valerian—257–260
  • Aurelian—270–275
  • Diocletian—303–313 (the worst emperor of all).

 

This is certainly a valid idea but it is hardly the point. When we have ALL of Revelation in view, it is clear that the “10 Days” is indicative of a short period of time.

 

That you may be tested: If this attack came from the devil, then why couldn’t these Christians in Smyrna just rebuke Satan, and stop the attack? Because God had a purpose in their suffering, and so He allowed it. God uses suffering to purify (1 Peter 1:6-7), to make us like Jesus (Romans 8:17), and to makes us truly witnesses of Him. In all ages, the blood of the martyrs has been seed for the church.

“The saints at Smyrna had not been given a pep-talk on ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ They had no testimony on ‘How Faith Made Me Mayor of Smyrna.’ They were not promised deliverance from tribulation, poverty and reviling. In fact, the worst was yet to come.” (Havner)

Most specifically in this case, God allowed this attack so that they may be tested, in the sense of being proven. Through their suffering, God displayed the true riches of the church in Smyrna to everyone, including themselves – even though He knew they were rich already.

 

The Christians in Smyrna would be tested, but they passed the test. This church, compared to the other six, has no evil spoken against it. Only this church among the seven survives today, and it has survived through centuries of Roman and Muslim persecution.

 

That you may be tested: God is also interested in testing us. We may not have the same opportunity to suffer for Jesus that the Christians in Smyrna had, but we can have their same heart. We may never be in a place to die a martyr’s death, but we can all live a martyr’s life. Sadly, many Christians avoid persecution of any kind by conforming so much to the world that they are no longer distinctively Christians. This wasn’t the case with the Christians in Smyrna. They were tested and they passed the test.

 

 

“Be thou faithful unto death”—and they were. They were martyrs for Him. He promises them “a crown of life.” Remember that He is addressing the believers who lived in Smyrna, the crown city. It is interesting that to them He is saying that He will give crowns—not crowns of flowers—or of anything else perishable—but crowns that will be eternal.

 

The Crown of Life is life itself: everlasting, undiminished, incapable of loss. So often we think of Life Everlasting in terms of time and it is true that Everlasting Life will not end but it is so much more than unending life. Everlasting Life, because it is IN Jesus, who IS life, is quality of life. Everlasting Life is perfect; it does not diminish because it cannot. Everlasting Life can no longer be shortened by sickness or dimmed by death. In the instant we put off this pitiful rag and take up the dazzling majestic robe of life that Christ gives, we will have total and complete quality of life unto the age of the ages. Christ, Himself, is our life; He is our crowning glory.

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