In our study of Revelation we are currently going through the 7 letters that Jesus sent to the 7 churches in chapter two and three. In them we get to see what Jesus thinks about those churches and by extension every church, ours included. Having already studied the letter to the saints at Ephesus, the robotic church that was busy but loveless, we turned our attention to Smyrna, the persecuted church. It just so happened that yesterday was also the international day of prayer for the persecuted church which made our study all the more timely and heavy hitting.
It’s hard to imagine that in our civilized and modern age that over 200 million Christians are facing persecution for their faith in Christ today. Dr. David Jeremiah put it this way: “Living in a country where we are not tortured or killed for our faith in Jesus, it seems remote that we might be called upon to be martyrs….Most of us cannot comprehend what it would be like to have our fingernails torn out or to see our children slaughtered before our eyes….” But it is an ongoing reality for Christians all over the world as it was for those Christians living in the city of Smyrna at the end of the first century. They were financially bankrupted, tortured and murdered in horrific ways because they wouldn’t worship Emperor Domitian as Lord. The amazing thing is that rather than destroying the church, the persecution actually strengthened it. The church at Smyrna was one of only two out of the seven that Jesus had nothing negative to say about whatsoever. He simply encouraged them to continue on and that they would see Him soon in heaven.
Interestingly enough, it is in also the shortest letter of them all. I think that in His brevity Jesus’ gives us a pattern for ministering to people who are grieving, suffering and hurting. We might be tempted to be long-winded and spout all sorts of truisms and platitudes but people in pain don’t need theological lectures they need friends. This has been on my mind especially as today I will be conducting a funeral for a 23 year old young man who died this week. He had attended Fresh Life on 4 or 5 Sundays and had just started to get involved, checking out our mens discipleship group and inquiring about getting plugged into the worship ministry. His early departure from this earth has left his family and friends obviously devastated but they are comforted in the knowledge that he had placed his faith in Christ. Funerals are always an open door for the gospel because everyone who attends is confronted with the brevity of life and the certainty of death. When I met with this young man’s family this week they told me that some of his friends who don’t know Christ will be coming to the service and they definitely wanted them to have an opportunity to come to know God. I told them I would, of course! Please keep the family and those who are hurting in prayer and that souls would be saved.
Through all of the difficulties and hardships we experience in this life, we can learn from the persecuted that God is capable of bringing beauty from ashes. The church in Smyrna that was under heavy fire was more on fire in their faith because of it. Charles Spurgeon put it this way: Never did the Church so much prosper and so truly thrive as when she was baptized in blood. The ship of the Church never sails so gloriously along as when the bloody spray of her martyrs falls upon her deck. We may never experience persecution of this magnitude, but we should be praying for those precious Christians who do.