Summary: Jesus Himself identifies with the persecuted church, and offers His grace and words of comfort.
Intro: The Persecuted Church
· A prominent national leader in the unregistered Protestant house church movement in China was executed Oct. 14, 1999 by firing squad.
· Chechen militants kidnapped a young Baptist deacon and are demanding that his church sell its building and use the money to pay the ransom. The deacons’ predecessors were kidnapped and beheaded.
· In India, a 26-year-old Catholic nun was raped and mocked for her faith.
· The Myanmar military government attacked 22 villages of a tribe who are mostly Christians. Witnesses said the military beat and stabbed to death many people.
· A Coptic Orthodox priest in Egypt was shot. A Coptic bishop faces from eight years in prison to the death penalty on charges resulting from his reporting that 1,200 members of his diocese had been tortured in August and September.
· In Vietnam, Sept. 17, 1999 security police raided a house church, arresting and interrogating an evangelist and two others.
· In a largely Christian province of Sudan, 700 people die from starvation each day. 50,000 mostly Christian kids, have been sold into slavery for “the going rate” of $50.
Cuba - Only ninety miles off the Florida Straits lies an island that stands as one of the last champions of communism. In 1959, Fidel Castro came to power threatening Cubans with socialism or death. In the mid ‘60s, Castro labeled Catholics and Protestants “social scum” and forced both laypeople and clergy into labor camps under inhumane conditions. Cuba’s constitution was amended in 1992 to guarantee freedom of religion. But today, despite the government’s claims of religious freedom, Christians are imprisoned and churches are destroyed. In 1996, the Ministry of Justice ordered the closure of all house churches, estimated to number between 3,000 and 10,000. Thankfully, most churches did not comply and continue to influence Cuba for Christ.
Pakistan – Many Pakistani Christians have been falsely accused of breaking Law 295c (blaspheming Mohammed)—a crime punishable by death. Some have even been killed by mobs after being acquitted of such charges. In 1998 a proposal was made to officially adopt Muslim Sharia law as the law of the land, which would bring about even more persecution. Despite hardships, Christians continue in love and perseverance, boldly sharing Christ.
China - China’s “strike-hard” policy, presented as a crackdown on criminals, is hardest on Christians, putting more believers in prison or under detention than in any other country. The confiscation of church property and Bibles continues—even Bibles officially printed by the government. Yet the Church grows: an estimated 3,000 Chinese come to Christ each day. China’s house church movement, which comprises approximately 90 percent of China’s Christians, endures unimaginable persecution, yet stands on its commitment to preach the gospel no matter the cost.
Transition: Much of what makes this sermon difficult to preach is that we as American Christians know so little of what it means to suffer for our faith. We just cannot relate to it. We have it so good here… It may not always be that way, but right now, we have much religious freedom that much of the world does not enjoy.
The faithful Christians at the ancient city of Smyrna knew persecution well…
Smyrna lay just 35 miles north of Ephesus on the west coast of Asia on the Aegean Sea. It was the loveliest of all the cities and was sometimes called “the Ornament of Asia,” “the Crown of Asia,” or sometimes “the Flower of Asia.”
The word “Smyrna” itself means “myrrh,” a sweet perfume used in embalming dead bodies, and included in the holy anointing oil used in the Tabernacle worship in the OT (Ex 30:23).
Smyrna is the only place to receive a letter where there is a city today. Ancient Smyrna is modern Izmir, Turkey’s second largest port after Istanbul and third largest city with over one and a half million inhabitants.
Smyrna had been a Greek colony as far back as 1000 B.C. Around 600 B.C. it was invaded and destroyed by the Lydeans and for 400 years there was no city there at all. Then around 200 B.C. Alexander the Great had it rebuilt and repopulated. It was built with streets that were broad, straight, sweeping, and beautifully paved. The city had experienced death and had literally been brought back to life.
Smyrna was also considered a free city, one that knew the meaning of loyalty and fidelity to Rome unlike most cities. Cicero called it, “one of our most faithful and our most ancient allies.” It was the first city in the world to erect a temple to the goddess Roma and to the spirit of Rome. Her fidelity to Rome was famous in the ancient world. It was also a center of the imperial cult of Rome and emperor worship. It was a city given over to idolatry, and devoted to the glory of the Roman empire.