Summary: DOES THE CHURCH SUFFER ON EARTH? HOW DO WE DEAL WITH IT AND WHAT IS THE CHURCH’S REWARD?
The Crowned Church—Smyrna
Clarence Jordan, the author of “Cotton Patch”, is a minister in Americus, Georgia. Jordan was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister’s church. Now Clarence was the minister of a poor, struggling, inter-racial congregation in the poor part of town and the congregation’s building he was touring was that of a rich congregation in the wealthy part of town.
The minister pointed out the imported pews and luxurious decorations to Clarence, and he did so with pride in their accomplishments. As they stepped outside in the darkness, a spotlight was shining on a huge cross atop the steeple of the building. The minister smiled and told Clarence, “That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars.”
Clarence Jordan replied, “You got cheated on the cross, because there were times when Christians could get them for free.”
What did Jordan mean by that remark? What did he mean when he said once upon a time, “Christians could get crosses for free…”?
Well it’s quite simple actually. He meant that thousands of Christians had died for their faith. They died on crosses—they died in arenas—and they died in lonely prison cells.
Christians throughout the ages
have suffered terribly for their faith.
In recent times, some missionaries in the Honduras were attacked by a group of wicked men who robbed them of their computers and other equipment, and they robbed them of their personal possessions. The missionaries had to return to the States and underwent intensive counseling.
One person who heard about this tragedy asked, “Where was God?” The incident was harsh; but, how harsh compared to Christians in the first century? How would we measure up to them in times of intense persecution? I know it’s hard to believe, but there are many places in the world where Christians suffer greatly for their faith….they even face the possibility of death for their faith. “Where is God when this happens?”
The same question could have been asked in the first century in a city in Asia Minor called Smyrna. Smyrna was not a friendly place to be a Christian during the first century. The Church in Smyrna received one of the seven messages from Jesus Christ’s revelation to His apostle, John, in the Book of Revelation.
Let us read…
---8---“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:
---9---“I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
---10---Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
---11---He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”
Jesus said this only in the beginning—“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer—I know your affliction and your poverty…I know these Jews, which are not Jews and that slander you; you will be persecuted for 10 days, so be faithful, even unto death, and I will give you a “CROWN of LIFE”.”
Like I said, Smyrna was not a friendly place to be a Christian. Could we be like them if we were called upon to be?
He said, “Poor, but Rich”. Wow! How do you figure that?
History says that Smyrna was a very wealthy city. It was situated as a perfect harbor and entryway into that part of Asia Minor. Even today, it is a thriving seaport of 200,000 people. During Roman times it was a magnificent city of beautiful public buildings and temples, mostly honoring the Roman gods and emperors.
Cicero, the famous Roman lawyer and historian, called Smyrna, “…one of Rome’s most faithful ancient allies.” One of the most incredible sights there was a street called “Golden Street”, so called because 5 great temples were built along this road. These were temples in honor of Roman gods.
There was even an altar honoring Caesar where, once each year, every citizen—and I emphasize every citizen—was expected to burn incense and declare, “Caesar is Lord.” After the incense was burned, the person offering was issued a certificate; and, anyone refusing to acknowledge Caesar as Lord would certainly be ostracized by these people. This would mean unemployment and poverty.
To acknowledge Caesar as Lord would be heresy for Christians. However, initially, members of the Church were exempted from this requirement. Then came the persecuting Jews and what they did to the Christians in Smyrna. The following is what one notable historian had to say about Smyrna at this time in history.