Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 January 17, 2020
“Fear Not; Be Faithful”
We continue to live in difficult times, to say the least, and—to help us through these difficult times—we continue to ask, in this second installment of our seven-part series, “What does the Spirit say to the Church?” Last week, in Jesus’ words to the Ephesian church, we heard clearly from Him, “Recover your first love.” Today, in Jesus’ words to the church at Smyrna, we hear from Him, “Fear not; be faithful.” Let us once again turn—and tune—our ears to God’s Word read and proclaimed in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
As was the case last week, so again is the case this week: the risen, ascended, glorified Jesus Christ speaks—both to one of His churches in western modern-day Turkey, ca. A. D. 95, and to His Church in every place in every age, including our own place and time. He introduces Himself to the Church at Smyrna, and to us, as the First and the Last. Jesus declares near the end of Revelation that He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13). If Jesus be the First and the Last, et al., He also is the Everything-in-Between. Jesus is all, and He is in all, and He is above all. This Jesus, our Savior and Lord, is the One Who died and rose to life. He died to atone for our sins, and He rose both the Victor over sin, death, grave, hell and the Guarantor of eternal life for the elect—of everyone committed into the Son’s hand by the Father.
This risen, ascended, glorified Christ speaks to the church at Smyrna—and, by extension, to us as well. In the case of Biblical Smyrna, Jesus issues no correction—only commendation and encouragement. Jesus, Who knows all, knows—of the church at Smyrna—its trouble (Greek thlipsis [qliyiV]). Jesus knows its direct suffering, perhaps (or likely) due to the local persecution extant under Roman Emperor Domitian (r. ca.
- D. 81-96)—a persecution that placed the Apostle John, the human author of Revelation, on the Isle of Patmos on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 1:10). Jesus also knows the poverty of the church at Smyrna—a poverty almost certainly in worldly goods and quite possibly in spirit as well (cf. Matthew 5:3), being cognizant of its abject poverty of any spiritual good apart from Christ. Furthermore, Jesus knows the slander the church as Smyrna has endured—a slander coming from those claiming to be Jews, that is, Christian in profession only, but not in fact. These professors (so our Puritan forebears would term them) actually constitute a synagogue of Satan—and, hence, thus they are. Jesus knows all the difficulties incumbent upon His church at Smyrna.
Yet Jesus knows of the Smyrna church, and declares of it: “But you are rich.” This is a staggering claim, on first hearing, in view of the church’s external appearances. Yet the Lord looks upon the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7), and He sees rightly His church at Smyrna. The church is awash—yea, rich—with the riches of Christ, vouchsafed to it through faith in Him. Hence, the church, despite all its difficulties, stands in favored estate before God—and this fact colors favorably all that follows.
Note now Jesus’ encouragement to His beloved besieged church. First, He exhorts it, “Do not fear.” In particular, her members shall not fear what they are about to suffer (Greek pascho [pascw]). This is the term for Christ’s sufferings, and, as we share in the sufferings, so also do we share in the term. The form of suffering—again, which the church shall not fear—is imprisonment for some. This imprisonment is for a relatively brief period (ten days, either literal or figurative), and it is not for destruction, but for refinement of God’s people, and their faith, amid trial (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7). \ Second, Jesus’ exhorts, “Be faithful.” He calls His Church, then and now, to fidelity to Himself—and that unto death, either at length or soon. Hence, let us, like those gone before, remain faithful to Jesus both in profession and practice, in order that—together with them—we may receive the crown of life from God’s good hand. This crown of life is both a visible honor atop the head and an invisible, yet indestructible, abundant and eternal life. Jesus then closes his address with His usual cry, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” followed by a promise. Jesus promises that the one conquering surely (the Greek text here is emphatic) will not be hurt by the second death—that is, the lake of fire, or hell (Revelation 20:14).
We too—both the Church generally and our church in particular—face a litany of difficulties. We face troubles, sufferings, and even persecutions because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. Here, in America, even in the southern Appalachian Mountains, Christ’s Church does not enjoy to societal favor it once enjoyed. Moreover, it seems from time to time—maybe often—we lack the material resources necessary for the ministerial task at hand. Add to this malicious speech endured by Christians as part of the Church in these days—both from outside and, alas, inside the Church—and we have, in sum, considerable difficulty in these days.
Yet remember: We are rich in Christ’s spiritual wealth. We have favor from God, forgiveness of sins, a life in His presence both abundant and eternal, among other precious blessings from His good hand. Therefore, let us fear not, though we appear to have reasons enough for fear. Let us also be faithful, even (and maybe especially) when tempted to decline from fidelity to the Lord. Let us each, and all, be assured now of future receipt of the crown of life, through faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord. If you have not received the free gift of God in Jesus Christ, then cry out to Him in faith for salvation. Then, with the rest of us, receive in due time the crown of life, from Him Who has the sole authority to bestow it, with exceeding thanks and joy. May the Lord have His rightful glory, and may you have every blessing He graciously intends, in this place today.