From Glory To Glory: Pain In The Process

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…”

For followers of Jesus, I think that the verse quoted above (part of a verse actually) has to be one of the most exciting passages in scripture concerning glory. Here, the Apostle Paul brings us into direct contact with the glory of God. The glory which was veiled to the Israelites during the time of Moses and remains hidden to those not in relation with Jesus has now been revealed to those who have experienced the freedom of the Spirit.

BRIEF RABBITT TRAIL: It is not my intention to spend a lot of time quibbling over the correct translation of κατοπτριζόμενοι (beholding). It is a fact that the Greek word could mean seeing as in a mirror or reflecting as a mirror. I think we sometimes force ourselves into an “either, or” definition when in all actuality it could be both at the same time. If you asked me, “So, which is it, seeing as in a mirror or reflecting as a mirror?” My answer would be, “Yes.”

As we who are in Christ are experiencing the glory of God, both seeing it and reflecting it, we are told that we are also being transformed into that same image of glory (Jesus), from one degree to another. That sounds wonderfully awesome to me. But what in the world does it mean, and how is it accomplished? I’d like to discuss one aspect of this process with you. It’s something we all experience (go figure) and none of us enjoy. PAIN.

There are many who believe that upon coming to Christ we are to be completely delivered from all pain and suffering. All of our distress is attributed at once to the enemy. I fear that at times we may have been “rebuking the devil” when actually our discomfort has been part of our transformation into glory. We insist that we want to be like Jesus, that we truly desire his glory, but somehow we have forgotten that in bringing many sons and daughters to glory Jesus himself had to experience much suffering. Is a servant greater than his master, or a messenger than the one who sent him? Of course not. Then we would do well to understand that our participation in glory will hurt at times. It was Jesus’ assumption of humanity that required even the author of salvation to learn obedience through what he suffered. So it is that the recipients of salvation experience pain as we are transformed from glory to glory into the image of the Son.

Lastly, we must never forget that the Father disciplines those children that he loves. Our “Western mindset” seems to always possess connotations of punishment and anger when considering the “discipline of the Father.” But discipline does not necessarily imply that sin has been committed and that punishment is being meted out. No, like any good father, God sometimes trains us, molds, shapes, and directs us in what is painful that we might bear the peaceable fruit of righteousness, that we might share his holiness, that we might be transformed from one degree of glory to another into the image of Christ.

Be encouraged today!! As a follower of Jesus, your pain and suffering are not in vain. You are experiencing the glory of God, being transformed into the glorious image of him by whose stripes you have been healed.

“ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

 

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I Come In Peace

“Blessed are the peace makers…”

Christmas time means gathering with family, and that means getting together with people you haven’t seen in a long time. And often times that means some old wounds that have not quite healed are opened up once again. I was talking with someone yesterday, and from our conversation I could tell that the bitterness he felt towards a member of his family was still very real to him. He briefly recounted the events that led to the dissolution of a certain relationship, and quite honestly, he was justified in his hurt. But what alarmed me was the way he reveled in it, outspoken in his unwillingness to forgive “I’m justified in the way I feel. “he said. “And it’s never gonna change.” It made me sad.

One of the tragedies of our sin and brokenness is the trauma it brings to our families. That group of people that God intended to “illustrate” for us the relationship of the Triune God (and ours with “It”) often suffers in ways which can never be truly mended. Even when we come to Jesus, sometimes the consequences of past behavior remain. You can’t “go back,” and undo the past. And it’s so easy to hold on to the memories, the pain, and the unforgiveness. Years go by, so much water under the bridge, and it’s just impossible to make things right. Impossible that is unless someone is willing to be a peacemaker.

Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean we pretend like the hurt isn’t real. It doesn’t mean that we excuse the offender’s behavior. It means that we choose to love and seek reconciliation in spite of it. And the truth of the matter is that being a peacemaker can be painful in itself. It’s hard to put aside our desire to be right (especially when we are), and allow healing to take place. We can get to a point where we love our hurt more than the person who hurt us. But in order for there to be a chance, someone has got to be willing to love and forgive. Someone will have to value forgiveness and reconciliation enough to suffer for it. Someone is going to have to be like Jesus.

We have no greater image of a person who was willing to suffer for reconciliation than Jesus. He was totally in the right, he had done nothing wrong, and he would have been justified if he had thrown up his hands in disgust.

“[But] He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

Jesus bore the pain it took to make things right, the ultimate Peacemaker. And it is his Spirit who can give you the grace needed to do as he did. In him, you can find the strength it takes to forgive and be a source of healing to your family. Come and give yourself to him today. Let him heal you, and then allow him to heal others though you.

 

Being A Christian In Babylon: A New Reality

I mean really, how do you respond when the Spirit says, “You are not an American any more.”?

We have previously looked at three different ways in which being a Christian in Babylon may tempt us to respond: assimilation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation), isolation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation), and rebellion (Being A Christian In Babylon: Rebellion). I have argued that these were not the ways in which Peter counseled his original audience nor us to respond, and now comes the part where I tell you what I believe to be the “right” way. I’m supposed to share with you how I believe we are to live as a people without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused? This has been burning in my heart for quite a while, and frankly, other than in conversations with close friends; I’ve never tried to articulate it before. It runs contrary to what most are saying these days, challenging our very concept (American/Western) of identity and reality. I mean really, how do you respond when the Spirit says, “You are not an American anymore.” How do you deal with the understanding that what culture says is right is wrong, that your idea of freedom is actually slavery, that you have actually been called to suffer as Jesus did, that you are not who “they” told you you were? See what I mean? But I do believe that our coming to terms with all of these questions is essential to being a Christian in Babylon. So, we’ll go slowly, a step at a time, asking Jesus to make his truth, his reality known to us.

For the Christians in Babylon during Peter’s day, in coming to terms with their reality, it had to be hard not to adopt a defeatist mentality. By all appearances, they were defeated, marginalized, and excluded from mainstream society. That was their reality, and their suffering would have made it very obvious. Babylon had declared them outcasts. But Peter wanted his early readers to remember that their reality was not defined by the way in which they were classified by Babylonian culture. Peter reminds them that they were personally chosen by God. Their “dispersion” across the Anatolian peninsula was not to be viewed as a scattering by the winds of fate, but rather an intentional sowing of seed by the hand of God. And as people of God’s choosing, people baptized into a new reality in Christ, the hardships endured within Babylon did not define them, but rather served to refine their faith as fire purifies gold.

I guess it’s a little different for us today, especially us American Christians. Really, it was probably easier for those 1st century Christians to see themselves as “other than,” being in, but not of so to speak. Their suffering at the hands of Babylonian culture would have made it obvious that they were not held in great affection by mainstream society. But we have, for the most part, been accepted by Babylonian culture and to our detriment defined by it as well. We have come to see ourselves as Babylonians who happen to be Christians instead of a holy nation, a new ethnicity, strangers and aliens who happen to reside in Babylon. Because we derive our identity from the culture in which we live, we tend to react as “Americans,” not Christians when suffering and trials come (or appear to be headed) our way. In order to mask our fear and the pain of separation from a culture we have mistakenly called our own, we protest and demand our rights, ignoring the reality to which we have been called- the reality in Jesus which defines suffering and trial as those things that result in glory and honor and praise. “By his stripes we have been healed.”

We are beginning to see that being a Christian in Babylon can make you feel like the world has crumbled to pieces around you. As the normal ebb and flow of life is replaced by the storm of opposing realities, the disciples of Jesus can be dismayed at the ruin of monuments they once held sacred. But our “security” is found in the understanding that our lives are built upon a Cornerstone that Babylon has discarded, and the bricks with which they are constructing their ziggurat are lifeless stones, its glory like the flower of grass that withers and falls. We must see ourselves as living stones being built up as a spiritual house upon the Living Stone, rejected by Babylon, but chosen and precious in the sight of God. It is in this “house” that we serve as priests, proclaiming the excellencies of him who has called us into his marvelous light. We are not called to serve in the Tower of Babel, to somehow prop it up and ensure its survival. On the contrary, we understand the reality that Babylon is doomed to fall, and as alien priests we extend mercy, grace, and hope to any who would seek refuge in the temple not made with hands.

I’m tempted to go on, and maybe I will . But we’ll stop here for now. Being a Christian in Babylon is inextricably linked to our relationship with Jesus. It is in the context of his life, death, and resurrection that we receive clarity, definition and assign value to our stay in Babylon and the suffering we are bound to encounter, that many of our brothers and sisters around the globe are already enduring. By “assimilating” Jesus’ reality, we neither isolate from nor rebel against Babylon. But as we see ourselves as he has declared us to be, men and women called to follow in his steps; we count it all joy that we share in his sufferings, glad when his glory is revealed.

Being A Christian In Babylon: Rebellion

It is Submission, not rebellion that illustrates to the world the beauty of our Lord.

Babylon. That place, that world system which the Bible portrays as being, at its very core, in opposition to God. How do you make sense of the inevitable suffering that comes with living in a culture that is diametrically opposed to everything you believe in? When you are without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused, how do you make sense of it all? How ought Christians to respond to this type of environment? Is the answer to be found in some form of assimilation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation )? Maybe isolation is the key (Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation ). I think it’s safe to say that we decided against those two responses. But we still have a third to consider before we go on to what I believe is the answer to being a Christian in Babylon. So, let’s take a look at rebellion. Should we simply overthrow Babylon and take over the whole shebang?

As with assimilation and isolation, you have to agree that rebellion had to possibly be one of the things that crossed the minds of the Christian communities to whom Peter had written back in the mid-60s AD. The suffering we are just now beginning to suspect may come our way was their everyday reality. Surely the thought of rebellion had to enter some of their minds. After all: “Peter, we are Christians. We know the truth and walk in the light. We could take over, infiltrate every facet of Babylonian culture, and use their own system to bring about righteousness and justice. How could we go wrong with Jesus as our King?” I’ll be that line of reasoning sounds eerily familiar to a lot of you. Hey, it doesn’t sound that far fetched, really. And it definitely would put an end to suffering. But Peter advised them and us against rebellion, and even counsels for a totally opposite response- submission.

Now, I realize that I just lost half of my American readers, but it is a disposition of submission (not rebellion) that Peter, that the Holy Spirit desires for Christians living in Babylon. Remember, Peter was writing to people living under the tyranny of Rome (Babylon). They had no say so whatsoever as to how things worked. Also, the culture in which these Christians lived had religiocultural activities in which they as disciples of Jesus could not participate. This made them outcasts of mainstream society. And in the midst of such tension, Peter says, “Submit.” Say it aint so. Peter, you can’t possibly mean that we are just supposed to take this abuse. Submit? You have to be out of your mind. Maybe they/we need to know what true submission is, and what it accomplishes.

Though Peter uses governments, slaves, wives, husbands, and the Church itself as examples of submission, it is Jesus he portrays as the ultimate example of submission:

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Do you see it? I know it goes contrary to everything we (especially we Americans) have had ingrained in us, but this is the holiness of true submission, with all of its glorious consequences. If anyone has ever been “railroaded,” lied about, and falsely accused, it was Jesus. If anyone ever deserved to rebel, get a good lawyer, and stand up for himself, it was Jesus. If anyone ever had the right to organize protests, and bring to light the injustice that was being perpetuated against him, it was Jesus. But it was his submission that resulted in our very salvation. And this is how we are to respond to the injustice and suffering that we encounter being Christians in Babylon. We must view our suffering as reconciliatory, just like Jesus’ suffering. Like Jesus, wholly submitted to the Father, we stand for righteousness, truth and justice. And like him, we must also know that living such lives may cost us greatly. It cost Jesus his life. To the government that tells us that we can’t do such and such or that we must do such and such, and we know these actions to be contrary to what Jesus tells us, we say, “I must obey God rather than man, and I submit to whatever it is you feel that you must do.” It is submission, not rebellion that illustrates to the world the beauty of our Lord. And just as by his beautiful stripes we have been healed, our own suffering can be that which God uses to bring salvation to those around us.

Being a Christian in Babylon is not about assimilation, isolation, or rebellion; there’s another way. We’ve touched on it today, and next time we’ll see that it challenges our very concept of reality and identity.

Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation

“…I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.”

In the introduction  to this series (Being A Christian In Babylon: An Introduction), I mentioned that I think that the readers of Peter’s first letter and we 21st century Christians living in “Babylon” are tempted to respond to the culture in which they find ourselves in basically three ways: assimilation, isolation, and/or rebellion. I believe that Peter offers a fourth way, an alternative that invites us to see our “exile and suffering in Babylon” in the context of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and our relationship with him. But before we get to that, I want us to look at the three alternatives I mentioned above. So today, let’s begin with assimilation.

For a moment, let’s go back in time. We arrive on the Anatolian peninsula in the mid-60s AD. There are various communities of believers who have found themselves scattered throughout this area, and they are experiencing what Peter calls  “a fiery trial.” They have no political influence what so ever. Their relationship with Jesus has caused them to be ostracized by mainstream society. They are misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled and assaulted. They are suffering. We don’t know whether or not they are enduring officially sanctioned persecution by the Roman Empire or more of a localized form or a combination of the two.  But we can infer from Peter’s comments to them and the underlying theme of suffering in his letter that they are indeed suffering. One writer describes their circumstances in this way:

“[They] would have distinguished themselves from the general populace by their nonparticipation in public festivals (cultural affairs imbued with religious, political and social consequence). Failing to associate themselves with these religiocultural activities, their behaviors would have been perceived by the general populace as atheistic, perhaps even bordering on unlawful.” (Joel B. Green)

I don’t want to spend any more time with historical background, but I think you can see from our brief look back how assimilation might have appeared attractive? Being the “assimilator” or the “assimilatee” could have eased some of the pressure. Incorporating a bit of Babylon into their communities or allowing Babylon to assimilate them back into the mainstream populace would have relieved some of the suffering. Perhaps some even felt that a little Babylonian assimilation would have made them more relevant, more effective in spreading the gospel. Perhaps some even commented, “Hey, didn’t we hear of this guy named Paul going around saying that he becomes all things to all men so he can win them to Jesus? What good are we going to do if we wind up dead?” Assimilation had to have been an attractive idea. Can you blame ‘em?

It’s in this climate that Peter urges the believers to stand firm. He tells them that they shouldn’t go back to the way they lived before. He reminds them that they have become obedient to the truth and are no longer to be shaped by their “former ignorance.” Peter describes them as sojourners and exiles who have been called out of darkness into light. Their very lives are to be lived in such a way that “silences the agnosticism of foolish people.” They are not the “assimilators” nor “assimilatees,” but rather priests who mediate God to those around them in grace and humility.

Each new day seems to bring news that bridges the gap between the communities to which Peter wrote so long ago, and 21st century Christians living in Babylon today. We are only beginning to experience some of the pressures of living as strangers in Babylon. We are only beginning to suspect the cost of being a disciple of Jesus in this hour. Our “fiery trial” has just begun. And though the motivations may vary (fear, desire for relevancy, etc…), the temptation to assimilate or be assimilated is so very alluring. Sadly, I believe that for a very large portion of those who call themselves Christians, the assimilation has already begun.

We have for the most part ignored Peter’s admonition to “not be conformed to the passions of our former ignorance.” We have seen it as easier to assimilate Babylonian culture than to live our lives in such a way that would influence it. “The passions of the flesh that wage war against our souls” have been redefined and dismissed as archaic, draconian, pharisaical moral paradigms that no longer have relevance. We have assimilated the Babylonian definition of spirituality and love and hidden our deception behind words like tolerance and inclusion. The grace and mercy in which we are to be mediators of God have instead become a cloaking device behind which we conceal our desire for acceptance and our fear of exclusion. Many of our ministers more closely resemble Babylonian celebrities than servant shepherds who humbly lead the flock by example. We have ignored Peter’s admonition, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Our assimilation only obscures the revelation of Jesus and points those who need him back to themselves.

I don’t think assimilation is the key for being a Christian in Babylon. In fact, the reality is that it actually does more harm than good and undermines the very things we say we desire. So, what is the answer? We’ll get to that. But before we do, we’ll next consider whether or not the appropriate response for being a Christian in Babylon is isolation.

Abide in Jesus. Watch & pray.

Being A Christian In Babylon: An Introduction

“By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings…” (1 Peter 5:13)

Babylon. Peter’s code-word for Rome. All through the Hebrew scriptures, from the plains of Shinar, to the deportation of the Jews, Babylon is depicted as a world system whose opposition to God was manifested in every facet of its culture. At its very core, Babylon was anti-God and for Peter- anti-Christ. Writing from the “belly of the beast” to the believers scattered across Asia Minor who were also living under Babylon’s domain, Peter wanted to tell them how to be Christians during their “exile.” How were they to exist in an environment in which they possessed no political influence? How were they to understand the suffering they endured in a culture that was diametrically opposed to everything they believed in? As we “continue to live out the biblical story,” we 21st century American Christians need to understand that he was writing to us as well.

I think there are basically three major “knee-jerk” ways in which the Christians who inhabited Peter’s Roman Babylon and we “present day Babylonians” tend to respond in such an environment : assimilation, isolation and rebellion. But I also believe that Peter offered them and us a fourth way, an alternative that invites us to see our “exile and suffering in Babylon” in the context of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and our relationship with him.

There’s absolutely no way I can include everything I’d like to say in one article, so, I’ll break it up into a series of articles: “Being A Christian in Babylon.” We’ll first look at the three “knee-jerk responses” and then conclude with what I believe to be Peter’s fourth way. I’ll publish part one shortly, but in the interim, I encourage you to read the book of 1 Peter, not as a stale historical letter to some obscure community of believers, but as a fresh word from the Spirit to you.

Lord, as we look at 1 Peter, by your Spirit, speak to our hearts and let us hear what you would say to us right here and now. Be glorified Jesus, and strengthen the hearts of your people.

Faithful Not Fearful

It seems like everyday there’s something in the news or on social-media that Christians are supposed to be afraid of. “By 2017, every American will be forced to have a chip implant…” Oh no, it’s the Mark of the Beast! “The economy is on the verge of collapse.” Start burying your money. “The radical Muslims are going to take over America.” Annie, get your gun! The list goes on, you see it all the time. But I hear the Spirit reminding us of what he told the church in Smyrna so long ago, “Stop being afraid.”

In the midst of everything the church in Smyrna was facing and would later endure, Jesus tells them (commands them) to stop being afraid. They would face prison, they would face death, but he tells them to be faithful- not fearful. Jesus assures the church in Smyrna that their faithfulness would earn them a crown of eternal value.

Although we don’t face trials that could even remotely be compared to what the church in Smyrna faced, it seems like so many Christians in America today are afraid. We look at the direction our country is heading, we see conspiracies under every bush (or Obama), and many are afraid. However, in contrast to the words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna by which he exhorted them to respond to fear with faithfulness, the response to our fear is to buy guns, get lawyers, and stand up for our rights. I wonder just what it is we’re afraid of.

Have we fallen so in love with the American dream that we have forgotten who we are? I know we don’t like to hear it, but sometimes being a good American and being a genuine Christian are not the same thing. We run from trials and suffering, after all, God doesn’t want his children to suffer does he? But is the bottom line simply that we’re afraid someone is going to come along and take all of our stuff? Remember the words of the Lord, “Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart’s going to be. Your life is hidden in Christ. Jesus is your treasure and reward. Could it be that we have more “invested” in the the world than we do in him? Have we become so attached to our way of life that the thought of losing it fills us with fear?  Jesus says to us, “Stop being afraid! You are mine and I am yours. Be faithful.”

The trials and suffering that may be heading our way will not take the Lord by surprise. He may not spare us having to go through tribulation like the church in Smyrna endured, like many of our brothers and sisters around the world are enduring RIGHT NOW! But he assures us that he is in control and that we can be faithful- even to our death. I believe we American Christians need to get a new outlook on suffering, an outlook that has nothing to do with being American, but everything to do with following Jesus. Brothers and sisters, let us not be fearful, but faithful.

 

Don’t Be Surprised

Although Jesus was not confrontational merely for the sake of confrontation, his teaching nevertheless caused much consternation among his listeners. His mere presence stirred up strong emotion. He said at one point, “I provoke hatred because I show the world how evil its deeds really are.” The  Good Shepherd had appeared, but they said, “He is leading people astray.” To the One who cast out devils they said, “You have a demon!” Speaking of the Son of God who taught the very words of the Father, the religious leaders said, “Only foolish people who are already damned listen to this imposter.” And Jesus tells us, “If they did these things to me don’t be surprised if they do them to you.”

Jesus was (and is) reality. And when reality “shows up” mere concepts of reality are exposed for the facades they actually are.  The presence of Truth provokes, divides, loves, heals and brings liberty- all at the same time. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day said, “We know God!” Jesus’ presence exposed the reality of their situation. ” You don’t really know him.” he said. “If you did, you would recognize me .” The Truth exposed their hypocrisy, and they hated him for it. “Don’t be surprised if they do the same to you.”

We are living in a day in whlucysurpriseich authentic Christianity will put you at odds with the mainstream. Really, it always has. We in America have had it so easy for so long, and I believe we are beginning to see that the jig is up. From now on, truly following Jesus is going to cost us. We will experience increasing rejection, estrangement from “church” friends and perhaps even physical persecution in the days to come. Jesus told us that it would be this way. “Don’t be surprised if they do the same to you.”

I’ll leave you with this:

After their release the apostles went back to their friends and reported to them what the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard it they raised their voices to God in united prayer and said, ‘Lord, you are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ’. For truly against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together to do whatever your hand and your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word, by stretching out your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ When they had prayed their meeting-place was shaken; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God fearlessly.”

Duck People

            Have we Christians of America forgotten who we are?  Have we become so enamored with our rights and the so called American dream that we have lost sight of the fact that even as our King suffered, we too have been called to suffer for his name’s sake? I think the reaction of many in response to the recent Duck Dynasty incident reveals a common misconception prevalent among us.

            Somehow, we who have given our lives to the One who said, “You are blessed when the world hates you. If they hated me, they will also hate you.” react with anger, disbelief and call for boycotts when persecution for the gospel is encountered. The cry to stand up for our rights drowns out the gentle whisper of the One who opened not his mouth as he was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Those who follow Jesus have been promised that they will encounter mistreatment at the hands of the world even as their Lord did. How is it that we as slaves have elevated ourselves above our Master?

            In the days ahead we spoiled and coddled Christians of the West may indeed face suffering the likes of which we have never known, and we must remember that it is not those who build dynasties and protest our mistreatment who will overcome. No, it is those who by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, who love not their lives even to the point of death who will be victorious. It is the cross, that nasty, despicable emblem of suffering, rejection and death which reveals true glory. While every fiber of our American being demands that we protest and be heard, is this really the way of our King who was denied his rights, reviled, falsely accused, beaten and crucified?

            “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

Smyrna: The Second Death

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11 ESV)

 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15 ESV)

 Recent shifts in theological thought have moved many away from the belief in a literal hell. And for many who still accept the concept of hell, the debate centers around whether or not it is a place of eternal punishment, or one of limited duration. Honestly, while I do believe the Bible teaches that there is a literal, eternal hell (a place of eternal separation from God); I don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about it. Don’t misunderstand me; people need to be aware of the horrific reality of eternal separation from God. Frankly though, most times I think we’re best served when our conversation is centered around the beauty of the One who came to bring us life. But in order to deal honestly with the final comments of our Lord in his letter to the church in Smyrna, hell does need to be a part of the conversation.

 Remember Smyrna was a church that faced great poverty and persecution. Both the Jews and the Romans represented a clear and present danger to anyone who called himself a Christian. Because of their faith in Jesus, the believers in Smyrna literally had their life on the line. They knew firsthand about martyrdom, and in time, they would experience it even more. Jesus had written to the church through the Apostle John and encouraged them to stop being afraid, but rather be faithful even to the point of death. A crown of life awaited the faithful. Now, Jesus closes by giving the assurance that while faithfulness in this life may result in death, the victorious need not fear the second death. What a comfort this must have been to a group of people who faced immanent danger at all times. They were reminded that this present life is not all there is. There would come a day of judgment and ultimate finality, but the church in Smyrna needed to know that the eternal life they were experiencing in Jesus would continue even if they were martyred for their faith. They had nothing to fear.

 Many in our churches today are honestly terrified and just “holding on ‘til Jesus comes and raptures us out of here.” There are also those who see no need to concern themselves with what’s going on in the world because after all, “ Wont be long and we’ll be outa here boy!” I don’t think that’s the message Jesus gave to the church in Smyrna, nor is it the message given to us who read the book of Revelation today. They weren’t going to be spared. They were going to suffer. But the promise is that even in death, they would live because He himself is life. He was the One who died, but lives. The believers in Smyrna were not promised rescue from their present circumstances, but they were promised that forfeiture of their present lives in no way signified the end.

Listen church of the 21st century. We live in a real world, with real issues. We can’t stick our heads in a hole in the ground and pretend everything’s alright. Our relationship with Jesus will by definition cause us to be directly involved in world events. Our faith may indeed demand the ultimate price. However, even if being faithful to Jesus ends up costing us our homes, our comforts or even our very lives; there is the promise of eternal life in God’s very presence. Brothers and sisters, this life is not all there is and we need to live and serve with that in mind. We American Christians spend so much time worrying about our precious rights, what we deserve, and how we’re going to fight and take it all back for Jesus. Funny thing is Jesus tells those in Smyrna, “Some of you won’t make it through this, but be faithful, because even in death you will live.” There is no exhortation to buy weapons or protest the unfair treatment they were suffering. No, Jesus comforts and strengthens them by reminding them that though they should die, they will live eternally, unharmed by the second death.

 Ever heard of Polycarp? (No, it’s not some kind of weird fish.) He was an early Christian Father who actually sat under the teachings of the Apostle John and served as Bishop in Smyrna. He paid for his faith with his life. It is said that although his martyrdom occurred on the Jewish Sabbath, their hatred for him was so great that they broke Sabbath law and were among the first to gather sticks for the fire with which he was to be burned. He was given a chance to deny Christ and save himself. But Polycarp responded with: “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he has never done me wrong. How can I deny the King who saved me? I do not fear the fire that burns for a season and after a while is quenched. Come, why do you delay? Come do your will.” And then he prayed, “I thank thee that thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour that I might receive a portion in the number of the martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ.”

 There are so many of our brothers and sisters being killed every day simply because they are Christians. We’ve all heard of what is going on in Egypt, and that’s just what’s in the news right now. Such suffering and persecution may indeed come our way as well. I pray that you will be comforted by the words of our Lord spoken to his church in Smyrna: “Stop being afraid. Be faithful in your suffering and I will give you the crown of life. You have no need to fear the second death. I am the first and the last, the one who died and lives!”