If you ask for an answer to your sufferings, you will never get a satisfying answer. We all want the fellowship of the resurrection and the power, but no one wants to be part of the fellowship of Jesus’ suffering.
February 10, 2024
Speaker: Gary Peters
Passage: Revelation 2:8-11
We’re in Revelation chapter two. Before we get started, I want to mention the men’s Bible study Tuesday night. We have between 85 and 90 signed up. We’ll be meeting in this room from 6:30-8:00 PM on Tuesday nights. We take spring break week off so that dads don’t have to worry about missing a week.
We’re studying the life of Joseph. I’ve taught this in three different churches. One time it took me 36 weeks to get through the life of Joseph. It took one complete calendar year when you count the special gatherings and guest speakers, God showing up, worship going long, and all those kinds of things, but it took us 36 weeks to get through. I love the study and challenge and encourage you to be there.
Some important facts as we start this morning. This is the letter to the church of Smyrna. The first letter was to the church of Ephesus. Smyrna was destroyed by the Lydians in 600 BC and rebuilt by the successors of Alexander the Great, almost 300 years later in 290 B BC.
Not very often is a city destroyed and rebuilt three centuries later, but it was, and it competed with Ephesus and Pergamum for being the principal city of the Roman province of Asia and had an influential harbor as a port city.
Unlike Ephesus, which was on the coast, Ephesus was continually filled in with dredge from the sand from the river. Smyrna wasn’t. Ephesus constantly had to be dredged because it is off the coast and filled in by the river. Smyrna was a major supplier of the gum resin extract myrrh. It’s one of the three gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus.
Myrrh was used as a medicine. It removed impurities. If you remember the story of Esther, she took a myrrh bath for ten days, or I think it was maybe three months or 90 days, and part of the myrrh would draw out impurities in the body. It was an anti-inflammatory. It was a perfume. It was especially used in times of death because it covered the stench of bodies. It was very important in the Roman Empire and very hard to get.
Trees that were scarred would produce this gum, which dried and then ground into powder. The powder was then put into some type of oil and became a perfume or substance that way. They were very loyal to Rome. The commercial enterprise of a temple was built for the Roman Caesars. They had been bestowed by the Roman Empire as being a temple guardian city. Unlike Ephesus, again, Ephesus had the Temple of Diana which was the daughter of Zeus. This is to the Roman emperor, so it’s a very important city. It also had a large secular Jewish population, ethnic Jews but not practicing.
This letter was written by John and spoken by Jesus. If you have a Bible, open it up. If you have a red-letter, Bible, this section of scripture is in red. Why is that? These are the words of Jesus.
It’s important for us to understand that these weren’t just some of the prophets or one of the writers of the New Testament. John is describing or scribing what Jesus told him. It’s the second of seven letters. It’s the shortest, at only four verses. It’s one of two letters that has no rebuke in it. The other was to the church of Philadelphia. There was no, you gotta do something. It’s similar language to Philadelphia also, in that the synagogue of Satan, or the seat of Satan, is in this city.
I must assume that God had nothing to edit in their life. There was no rebuke; there was no challenge to get better at something. God is pleased with us, and yet, the theme of the letter of the Church of Smyrna is suffering. How many of you think that if God’s pleased with you, you ought to suffer? No. Most of us think that if God is pleased, then things go well for us. Job says, “Shall I receive blessing and not curses or bad from the Lord?” I can receive both. Life is full of suffering. That’s what this letter is really about.
Let’s stand and read these four verses together. This letter is to the angel or the messenger of the church of Smyrna. The name “Smyrna” was derived from myrrh also, which is interesting.
It says, “This is a message from the one who is the first and the last, who was dead, but now is alive. I know three things: I know your suffering and poverty, but you are rich. I know the blasphemy of those who are opposing you who say they are Jews, but they are not because their synagogue belongs to Satan.”
Secondly, don’t be afraid of what you’re about to suffer. How many of you want the Lord to appear? Write a letter to put the letters in red and say, “Don’t be afraid of what you’re about to suffer.” How many would like that? Yeah, you’re lying. That’s not the truth. Most of us don’t like those. I shouldn’t say that. I would be lying. It’s like, yes, Lord, thank You for the encouragement of about what I’m about to suffer.
“The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful, even in facing death, then I will give you the crown of life. Anyone who has ears to hear must listen to the Spirit, and understand what He is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.” God bless the reading of Your Word, in Jesus’ name, amen. You may be seated.
The challenge of most of the letters, the five letters, besides this letter to Smyrna and Philadelphia, is not to become like the culture you’re living in. Even though that’s a good message and hard to live, sometimes, the challenge to Smyrna is not, “I know your works,” but, “I know you’re suffering.” That should bring comfort to us.
Paul states in Romans 8:17, “We are partakers of Christ’s glory, but we’re also partakers of Christ’s suffering.” We all want the fellowship of the resurrection as it says in Philippians 4:3. We all want the fellowship of His resurrection–the power–but we don’t want the fellowship of His sufferings. It’s just part of life—the mystery of suffering.
If you’re asking for an answer to your suffering, you will never get a satisfactory one. People say, “Well is the Lord in Heaven?” If you hear me saying this all the time, “When you get to heaven, you won’t care.” You won’t care anymore, because you’re going to see the one who is the Prince of Peace, the one who’s secured your salvation for you.
Suffering means torment, trouble, confusion, worry, plague. All of those things are associated with physical pain. You will never understand or get an answer. Remember, in John nine, the man born blind, remember what they said? “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” A baby was born blind, and now he’s 40 years old. So for four decades, he lived a life of not being able to see, and the disciples the Apostle said to Jesus, who sinned? This man, did he sin? There’s got to be a reason for his suffering. This man sinned or his parents sinned. There had to be a reason.
Jesus said, neither for the glory of God.
Yet there is suffering by our own choice. I had a friend in high school with two siblings, and his parents all smoked several packs of cigarettes a day. They all died before they reached 65. About 30 years ago, he decided to quit smoking. He’s a couple of years older than me, and he’s still alive.
We can say that God allowed cancer to come on those people because they smoked several packs of cigarettes a day and now have gone out to get them. No, it’s like there are blessings and curses if you do certain things. I love what Pastor Greg said when I first started attending Vintage. He said, “Ask yourself, what’s the run rate of that sin I’m committing? What’s going to be the end of my life?”
If you read Proverbs chapters four through seven, it’s like, don’t follow the adulterous woman, don’t sleep with a prostitute. Because at the end of life, you’re going to go, why did I do that? I spent my life chasing this. I’ve chased this, and I chase that, and somebody else has enjoyed the fruit of my labors. Somebody else has enjoyed my wealth and my vitality. God’s not out to get you, never. If we set certain things in motion, there will be consequences. If I jump off a building and repent halfway before I hit the ground, I’m forgiven of my sin of stupidity. But I’ll probably break both legs when I hit the ground. It had nothing to do with God and had to do with my actions.
That’s not what we’re talking about here at the church of Smyrna. They are suffering because they chose to serve God. Let’s look at this verse by verse. This is the message of the one who is the first and the last, who is dead, but is now alive. It’s a direct quote from Isaiah 44. I want to encourage you to look at Isaiah 44. It’s one of my favorite Old Testament passages. Isaiah says this, “This is what the Lord says, Israel’s King and Redeemer the Lord of hosts, ‘I am the First and the Last. There’s no other God.'” When people say, “Jesus isn’t God,” He’s directly quoting Isaiah 44, which is no dispute of who Jehovah God is. Jesus says, I’m the first and last. God says I’m the first and the last. God the Father, who is like Me, let Him step forward and prove His power. But He did as I had done since ancient times, establishing people and explaining the future.
None of us can do that. “Do not tremble. Do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago, you are my witness, there is no other God but me. No, there’s no other rock, not one.” If you read the rest of the chapter, it’s almost comical. God says somebody takes a piece of wood, they cut it in half, with half of it, they cook their breakfast, the other half, they make an idol. Yet, they never see the stupidity of that. I just cooked my breakfast on half of my idol. Isaiah is mocking them and says, wake up, there’s no other God beside me. We need to understand that revelation.
When we look at chapter one, verses 8:17-18, it says, “‘I’m the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning in the end,’ says the Lord God, ‘I’m the one who was and is in to come, the Almighty.’ When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as if I was a dead man. But He laid His right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last. I am living. I died. But look, I’m alive forevermore, and I hold the keys to death and the grave.'”
Jesus is saying, I was once dead, and now I’m alive. Therefore you can have faith in the midst of the suffering because some of you are going to die for your faith.
None of us Americans, of course. How do we know? Why do we say those who are in other countries are going to suffer for their faith, but it’ll never touch our shores? Just a sobering reminder that none of us are promised that. By the way, some of you don’t know if I could stand for my faith. If somebody said to deny Christ, you’re going to die. You’re not being asked to right now. There’ll be grace when you need it if you need it.
I’m not pronouncing judgment, and while I’m not prophesying that we’re going to suffer persecution, I think we might. How many of you pray for those in what is called the 10/40 window? I pray for them almost every week. Those who are facing martyrdom at this very moment are living for Christ with the threat of their families being taken, their livelihoods being taken, their lives being taken, and their health being taken. Yet we say, I believe in the Declaration of Independence, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I always tell people who say this that it’s an ideal but not a promise from God. As a matter of fact, the writers of the document didn’t even believe it. Why? Because they had people that they owned, that were not practicing. They weren’t giving them the ability to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which made them evil in the sense that they didn’t have the sense to know what they were doing.
I believe in that document. I praise God for that document. But for us to believe that because I’m an American, I have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when my brothers in China, Iran, or North Korea are suffering for their faith, God didn’t give them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Because the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of what makes me happy. If there’s anything wrong with us right now, we all are pursuing what makes us happy. Now I understand that in 1776, happiness had the concept of God being in the equation. But the fact is, none of us have been promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We’ve been promised one thing: in this life, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer.
I asked for this passage of scripture. My lifetime scripture is that of Timothy. Timothy was a good soldier of Jesus Christ and endured hardship. Oh, Lord, is there another lifetime scripture? Yeah, endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, that you may please the one who has enlisted you. It’s kind of like volunteering.
My dad was in the military, and he used to say that sometimes with volunteering, everybody steps forward and wants to volunteer, those who didn’t were the ones who volunteered. You take a step forward. Those behind those who volunteered are now volunteers.
I am the first to the last. I always say He’s the God of the in-between. I always talk about the tweener times. Does anybody know what a tweener time is? A tweener time is when God has given you a promise, and you’re waiting for it to be fulfilled. That’s the in-between time, that’s a tweener time, and that’s when faith is teste–in the tweener times.
It’s in that time of testing that our faith is tested. I love the fact when He says, “Get in the boat. They were going to encounter a storm that they didn’t know about, but He did, and He put them in the boat.
Verse nine, “I know about your suffering. I know about your suffering and your poverty, but you are rich. I know the blasphemy of those who oppose you.” The thing that’s so incredible is this. In verse eight, Jesus gives the contrast between the Roman emperors and the Empire and Him. “I am the First and the Last, the beginning and the end.” Do you realize the Roman Empire had about another 400 years before it collapsed? Do you realize that it is a drop in the bucket when it comes to, “I am the First and the Last?”
The second thing He says is, “I know everything about you. I am intimately acquainted with you.” I believe that’s true until something happens we don’t like. “I know your afflictions and your challenges. I know your poverty.” Can somebody say, “Thank you, Lord?” Not only spiritual poverty but physical poverty. I know your poverty. Yet in Me, you’re rich. It’s not about money. It’s not about possessions. It’s about who you are and who possesses you. I know your afflictions, I know your challenges, I know your poverty, but you are rich.
“Blessed are the poor, and realize their need of Him, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” I love that translation, “Blessed are the poor, and those that have need of Him.” I find it easier sometimes to serve God in the midst of the trial than it is when everything’s going hunky dory. He goes, “I know the slander and the blasphemy that’s been given to you.” Do you know what slander is? It’s truth spoken in a way or twisted to bring harm to the person that has been talked about. I have some truths about me that somebody could twist or take out of context, or drop one line to you, and it would make a different picture of who I am.
The enemy is great at taking a portion of scripture and throwing that in your face, but taking it out of context. The enemy will take your past and take a section of your past and throw it in your face. The slander, the blasphemy. I know. Verse nine says that they are Jews, but they are not because they belong to the synagogue of Satan. Let me say this. This is not a statement to fuel anti-Semitism.
Dr. Ian Paul, who’s going to be with us in April, who’s a scholar–a lot of the points I have here came from his commentary on the book of Revelation–says this, “This is about being the people of God at heart. It is about faith and obedience, not ethnicity.”
It has nothing to do with the fact that they were Jews. It has to do with those who are saying they’re Jews, but they’re not. It just struck me. If you study world history, there is an oxymoron. It’s something that’s so opposed to us when we’re amid it. But we’ve seen it happen time and time again, where the ones who were persecuted now become the persecutors.
Throughout world history, people who were once suppressed when they had power now become the ones who oppress others. We’ve got to be careful. That’s the danger of being a Christian too long. You forget what it was like to get saved. You forget what you were saved from. But the fact is, all of us are on our way to hell. At one time, everybody in this room, whether you’re Christian or not, at one time in your life, either now as a non-believer, or at one time you were someone who was on your way to hell, your trespasses were counted against you because you didn’t accept Jesus.
The danger is the church forgets what they’re safe from and starts persecuting those who are in the same boat. We’ve got to be careful church. That’s what was happening here. This is a statement about Satan, the synagogue of Satan. You realize there are two names given to our enemy. One is Satan. One is the devil. Now, he’s described as other things, but those are his two names. Like my name is Gary, his name is Satan, or his name is devil. Satan means “accuser.” Devil means “adversary.”
He is constantly accusing you, and he’s constantly opposing you. I’ve had people say, “You shouldn’t talk about the devil because he’s gonna be mad at you. He’s gonna go after you.” Guess what? He’s already after me. I don’t mock him, but the fact is, I’m not afraid of him. But the accuser of the brethren, when you participate in accusation against another, you are part of the synagogue of Satan. You are accusing people of using the very spirit that is his main weapon.
If you study the book of Job, chapter one says that Satan comes in and appears before God. He does it also in the New Testament when he appears before God about Peter, but this time is about Job. God says, if you considered my servant Job, he’s upright. He’s blameless. Again, if you read the book of Job, it’s about suffering. What are Job’s comforters saying? So you did something wrong? You did something wrong, Job, or God’s mad, God’s mean. Those are the two accusations, and they’re no different to any of us.
Either you did something wrong, or God’s mad at you. God’s bad–bad God. It’s a fact. What the accuser does in Job’s case is accuse God, He says, now, he serves God for no reason. You protected him, remove his wall of protection, and he’ll curse you to your face. Job’s wife said, “Curse God and die.” He said, “Shall I receive good from the Lord and not evil?” I used to pitch on Job’s wife, only to realize one day that she lost all four of her kids. God help that mama. No wonder she felt cursed. All four kids died in a moment. They lost everything in a moment. Yet Job stays steadfast.
The acute accusation is the plow that prepares the field to accept the seeds of division. When you participate, when you speak evil of your brothers or sister in the Lord, when you speak evil of another church, guess what you’re doing? You’re sowing seeds, and you’re plowing the fields for others to sow the seeds. You’re participating with the accuser, much like the church of Smyrna in small regard.
I went to this pastor’s sort of one-day retreat. The Lord spoke something to me very clearly, “Gary, you’re going to go through something soon. But don’t doubt My love.” Cool, awesome. Do you know where my mind went instantly? “Please, God, don’t take my babies. Don’t take my kids or my grandkids, please.”
In about a year, we went through something very hard. Do you know what the enemy was? He used believers to attack us. He used accusations from others. Now, was there some truth? Yes, it was slander. Did I do everything right? No. But the fact is the enemy will have a partner, a willing partner to take accusation and then sow the seeds, and others took it, and others stood before people. I understood the suffering of Christ in that, I have been with you so long, and you still don’t know who I am? Sure, there’s a lot of emotion. It has been more than ten years, and I still need healing. The deeper the cut, the more cleansing because if you don’t keep the wound cleansed, it’ll get infected. Then, when it gets infected, it’ll puke out on others. That’s what bitterness does.
The root of bitterness takes root, springs up, and spreads through us to others. That’s why I’ve said to you many times, that’s why grandma’s bitter, uncle’s bitter, aunt’s bitter, cousins are bitter. Everybody’s bitter in the family because somebody allowed a root of bitterness to come and puke on everybody else. Just feel it all over people.
Revelation 12:11 says that one day there’s going to be an accuser of the brethren who is going to be thrown down because he’s accused them day and night. That’s why Jesus constantly lives to make intercession for us. He makes intercession day and night because the accuser constantly accuses us. You don’t need an enemy. You have one. Don’t willingly participate with him for others.
Notice what He says, “Don’t be afraid of what you’re about to suffer.” If I was the people in Smyrna, I’d be going any other word out there? How about, you are going to be delivered from suffering? How about, I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and give you hope?
We had a word from the Prayer Team. It was all about hope. I’m going, “Oh, man, I’m talking about suffering today.” But see, as a believer, it’s this. You can have hope in the midst of your suffering. Why? Because He’s not asking you anything that He hasn’t gone through himself.
“I’m the first and the last,” I died for my faith, and yet I’m alive. “The one that endures to the end will not suffer the second death.” What’s the second death? It’s hell. The first death is separation from the body. The second death is separation from God. You want to know what hell is? Hell is the opposite of what God is. God’s not going to be in hell. Jesus is the living water. Jesus is light. It’s going to be a place of intense thirst, a place of complete darkness, everything that God is, hell is not.
There was a guy by the name of Polycarp. Polycarp was a disciple of John who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the book of Revelation. He became the Bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp was a young man when John was alive and wrote this book, probably in his early 20s. He died around 50-60 years after the book of Revelation. He was martyred for his faith. They burned him alive, and it didn’t kill him. So a Roman soldier stabbed him. When Polycarp died at 86, it said that for 86 years, he faithfully served God.
What would happen if God gave us the word, “You’re about ready to suffer.” See, the ten days weren’t ten days as we know. Ten days means there’s a beginning and there’s an end. There’s going to be an end to what you’re going through. There’s going to be an end. Whether you see Jesus or He delivers you, there’s going to be an end. How would you like to be Polycarp as a 20-year-old with all your dreams and your visions ahead of you, and God says you’re going to serve in a city that one day they’re going to kill you for your faith.
I thought it was, come to Jesus and everything’s just awesome. Come to Jesus, and you know, it’s awesome. Because no matter what you go through, it is awesome. Because your perspective is not of this world. It’s up to Him. That’s why the three Hebrew men could say, we’re not going to bow. That’s why, throughout world history, there’s been murder after murder after murder after murder that stood amid their faith.
You say, “Pastor, I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can hold on like Polycarp.” Right now, God’s not asking you. I guarantee, as a 20-year-old, he didn’t know what the next 60 years entailed for him. But I want to say to you, some of you, what will the next 60 years be for you? Will it be said — because the tomb of Polycarp is still in Smyrna — that for 86 years, he faithfully served God? That’s why Smyrna has no rebuke because believers willingly followed God no matter what.
There was a song we used to sing that one of my pastors in Texas found. It was an old hymn, and he put contemporary music to it. It was what Christians said when they were being led into the Roman Colosseum. “Come, let us adore our ever-living God and render praise unto Him who sent out the heavens.” Think about that, church. If God asked any of us here to be martyrs, to be persecuted for our faith, there’s grace. There’s grace. There’s grace because He has been faithful. Therefore, you and I can be faithful. That’s it.
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