Summary: This is the third message in this series that looks at the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. This message examines the letter to the church at Smyrna. The message examines the extreme circumstances and poverty that the church at Smy
It has been said that love is a universal language. The same has been said of music. However, I believe that the same could be said of suffering. Each of these speaks a language that can only be heard in depths of our hearts. Only in our hearts can we find the language of unexplainable misery spoken and explained. Words cannot even begin to show the depth of the pain found in a suffering soul; the pain is much too deep. Even in prayer, at times the suffering becomes so intense that words fail. The church at Smyrna understood the language of suffering. Smyrna was known as the “ornament of Asia.” Smyrna was 40 miles due north of Ephesus and also was an important seaport. Despite the extreme wealth of the city, the church was physically poor. Through the afflictions of persecution and poverty they gained a fluent understanding of this language of suffering. Only two of these seven churches received nothing but commendation. Smyrna was one of them. I encourage you to resist the temptation right now to open this letter addressed to them with half-hearted concern. For if we do our hearts may just grow cold to the one who intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. If this happens we will not understand the language and will miss the message. And if we listen real closely, we just might hear another universal language—encouragement—spoken to hearts of the believers in Smyrna and quite possibly to you as well.
I. A close examination of the city of Smyrna.
A. Smyrna means perfume, and this seaport city forty miles north of Ephesus had great wealth and beauty.
1. Known as the “ornament of Asia”, this claim was backed up by a thriving harbor, picturesque beauty and a famous stadium.
2. Known as the birthplace of Homer, it was also an important seaport that commanded the mouth of the Hermus River valley.
3. Smyrna also had a theater that rivaled the 25,000 seat theater in Ephesus.
4. The sweeping streets escorted you from the harbor through the foothills and up Mount Pagos, which rose more than 500 feet above the port.
5. A great avenue circled the mountain called the “Street of Gold” whose beginning and end were marked by large stately temples to Zeus.
6. The top of Mount Pagos gleamed with the acropolis and numerous colonnaded buildings earning it the name the “Crown of Smyrna.”
B. Pagan culture and religion thrived with almost unparalleled splendor in Smyrna.
1. The city of Smyrna had a large menu of gods from which you could have your pick to worship.
2. Smyrna was the center for Emperor Worship and it was encouraged of all citizens by an attached death penalty for failing to do so.
3. Citizens were expected to burn incense on the altar to Caesar once a year and were issued a certificate to prove that they had carried out their civil duty. While burning the incense they were called to proclaim “Caesar is lord.”
4. Smyrna also had a large Jewish population who fought hard against Christianity.
5. The saints at Smyrna were being bitterly attacked by the Jews. Historians tell of the eagerness with which these Jews sought to aid in the martyrdom of Polycarp, for instance.
II. A close examination of this letter from Christ to His church in Smyrna.
A. In the opening lines of this letter Jesus immediately taps that universal language of suffering and extends hope and encouragement to these hurting believers.
1. Why did Jesus choose this description for Himself? Who better to help these suffering believers, then someone who has gone through a similar situation.
2. Here Jesus communicates, “I know what you are going through, I’ve been where you are, I understand your fear and pain.”
3. Notice the hope tucked away in this next phrase, “has come to life,” for persecuted believers clinging to their very life that hope was so important.
4. The word “life” was something the held tightly to in the depths of their souls.
B. In times of extreme suffering we often feel that there is no one that could possibly understand the depth of our pain.
1. Often where someone says, “I know what you are going through,” we wonder; “Do you really?” We then begin to doubt and slip deeper into our pain.
2. To have someone actually name our pain often helps free us from the solitary confinement of our hurt and allows us to begin to see that there is hope.
3. Even if the suffering continues we are now given at least new strength to keep going.
C. We must take time to have a Greek lesson to fully appreciate Jesus’ insight into their condition.
1. He knew their tribulation the Greek word thlipsis used for affliction here literally means crushing beneath an extremely heavy weight.