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04.18.10 Appearances Can Be Deceiving, Revelation 2:8-11 Sermon Summary

by on April 20, 2010

In Buddhism, the First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. In Christianity we say creation is infected with sin. Intuitively we all know this: we all suffer. But, in Christianity at least, not everything is as it appears.

When approaching the topic of suffering as presented in the book of Revelation, we can never forget who it is that is speaking to the churches. And who speaks determines what it means.

It is the glorified, resurrected Christ who addresses the churches in Revelation 2-3 and today. He is the First and the Last, which means that he is present also in the interim. He was dead, but is now alive, which means he is familiar with suffering, and the extent to which suffering can take us—even death. He is the Firstborn of the dead, which means that those who follow Jesus will follow Jesus; those who live as Jesus did in this life, will live with Jesus beyond this life.

In this letter, Jesus assures the Christians of Smyrna that their trial will last “10 days.” Ten days is a full and complete number. But it is limited. Sometimes in the midst of suffering, we feel it will be the end of us. But Jesus’ words here assure us that it is our suffering that will end, no matter how long it seems we have to endure it.

The Christians in Smyrna experienced “10 days” of suffering in three ways. The first resulted from the fact that they were a marginalized group in an antagonistic dominant culture. Smyrna was loyal to Rome and Roman religion, having built a temple to the Goddess Roma in 195 BCE. This caused the Christian church to suffer the “afflictions and poverty” cited by Jesus.

They were also falsely accused by fellow religious people. The members of the “synagogue of Satan” were probably Jews who differentiated themselves from the Christians in order to deflect Roman discipline and direct it to the church. Another possibility is that they were Christians who believed one had to follow the Law in order to follow Christ. In either case, the Christians Jesus addresses were those who suffered under false accusations of a religious nature.

Finally, the Christians at Smyrna were subject to imprisonment and persecution. No matter what the specific cause, Jesus offers his encouragement to those who suffer.

We who suffer today know that suffering is intimately personal. People are allowed to define their own suffering. Everyone thinks his or her own suffering is unique. Regardless, God is with each person in his or her own suffering.

When does the church in the United States, a church like ours, suffer today? (Or how ought we to suffer?) We suffer today when we support causes that are kingdom related, regardless of political party. The Democrats are wrong, as are the Republicans. And when they’re wrong, Christians follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But this gets us into trouble with the political powers. We will suffer.

We suffer when we uphold grace instead of judgment. We suffer when we pursue Christ’s mission instead of and even at the expense of the church’s traditions. In all these ways, we will suffer as the church.

How can we be among those who “overcome”, whether over individual or church suffering? This passage gives us four aids. First, we can remember the justness of our cause, especially when we suffer for it or are being falsely accused. Second, we can remember the faithfulness of God, that after “10 days” we will be delivered, and so we can give thanks in advance.

Third, we can remember the reward that God promises us. Jesus says he will give those who overcome the crown of life. There are two words in New Testament Greek translated “crown”. One is diadema which is the crown of a ruler. The other is stephanos which is the crown of an athletic champion. They celebrated athletic games in Smyrna, and the Christians there would have been quite familiar with the winner’s crown. This is the word Jesus uses here.

And finally, we can look for whatever lessons we might learn as a result of our suffering. Readers of James 1 are encouraged to find in their suffering the lessons of perseverance and wisdom. When exercising faith in God through suffering, we will learn how to be more faithful.

Remembering these things may help us through our suffering. There is sin in our world, and the First Noble Truth is correct: there is suffering. Sometimes our suffering is inexplicable, and the encouragement Revelation 2 and James 1 offers fails to sustain us. In those cases, let us remember that through all our suffering, God is with us in Christ.

Questions for Deeper Reflection

  • We often dismiss our suffering because we think it’s not as bad as someone else’s. Though we suffer, we talk ourselves out of entrusting it to God because we aren’t suffering like the Christians in Smyrna. In what ways are you suffering today—truly suffering, even if not heroically suffering? Unless you acknowledge it, you can’t pray about it. And prayer is the means by which God reconciles suffering in our lives.
  • Think of a trial you’re presently suffering. Which “day” are you in? Does it encourage you that suffering is ordained to last only “10 days”? What might you do between now and your tenth day?
  • For a perspective on the “Second Death”, see the Sermon Scraps for this day.

Which of the means of persevering through suffering (justness of your cause, God’s faithfulness to deliver, rewards to be received, lessons to be learned, and resting in God’s presence) best applies to your life today?

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