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Summary: Learning that we need to get serious about our quest for holiness of heart and life.

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I THINK IT IS SAFE TO SAY THAT IT IS REALLY DIFFICULT, IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE, FOR MOST MODERN DAY CHRISTIANS TO FULLY COMPREHEND WHAT IT MUST BE LIKE TO RISK ALL THEY HAVE FOR CHRIST!

MOST, IF NOT ALL OF US, STILL STRUGGLE WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF BEING PUBLICLY EMBARRASSED, HUMILIATED, OR SOCIALLY REJECTED FOR SIMPLY TALKING ABOUT OR MENTIONING THE NAME OF JESUS.

LET’S FACE IT, WE JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MARTYR. THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY CHURCH HAS LITTLE OR NO UNDERSTANDING ABOUT THE CONCEPT OF LAYING DOWN THEIR LIVES FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL.

BEYOND WORDS SUCH AS "COMMITMENT" AND "SACRIFICE," WE REALLY DON’T KNOW WHAT IT ACTUALLY MEANS TO BE COUNTED WORTHY TO DIE FOR CHRIST.

WHETHER BURNED ALIVE AT THE STAKE FOR NERO’S ENTERTAINMENT, TORTURED IN THE DUNGEON DURING THE MIDDLE AGES, OR CONSTANTLY ATTACKED BY THE A.C.L.U., OR THE "AMERICANS FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE," CHRISTIANS HAVE ALWAYS FACED SOME FORM OR DEGREE OF PERSECUTION. THE CHURCH AT SMYRNA WAS NO DIFFERENT.

SMYRNA WAS A BEAUTIFUL CITY LOCATED ON THE AEGEAN COAST ABOUT 40 MILES NORTH OF EPHESUS. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST PROSPEROUS CITIES OF ASIA. THE RUINS OF THIS ANCIENT CITY ARE NOW COVERED BY THE MODERN TURKISH CITY OF IZMIR.

THE WORD SMYRNA WAS DERIVED FROM THE WORD MYRRH, WHICH WAS A FRAGRANT HERB USED IN THE MAKING OF ANOINTING OILS AND PERFUMES. IT DOESN’T SURPRISE ME THAT THE CHURCH OF SMYRNA WAS LITERALLY A SWEET SMELLING SAVOR TO THE LORD.

DESPITE THE PUTRID SMELL EMANATING FROM WITHIN THE CITY THE CHURCH MAINTAINED HER SWEET FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST. THE TOWN LITERALLY SMELLED SWEET AS IT MANUFACTURED THE PERFUMES AND THE CHURCH SMELLED SWEET AS IT CARRIED OUT ITS MISSIONS AND MINISTRY.

THE CITY OF SMYRNA, OF ALL THE CITIES IN ASIA, HAD THE GREATEST REPUTATION FOR BEING LOYAL TO THE ROMAN EMPIRE. BECAUSE OF ITS LOYALTY THE CITY BECAME ONE OF THE MAJOR CENTERS OF EMPEROR WORSHIP.

AS EARLY AS 26 A.D., DURING THE REIGN OF TIBERIUS CAESAR, A TEMPLE HAD BEEN BUILT TO HONOR THE EMPEROR. AT ITS COMPLETION, CHRISTIANS OF SMYRNA WERE SOON CONFRONTED WITH THE INTENSE PRESSURE TO ANNUALLY CHOOSE BETWEEN SAYING "JESUS IS LORD," OR, "CAESAR IS LORD."

LATER IN THE FIRST CENTURY, THIS ACTUALLY BECAME A TEST THAT THE ROMAN AUTHORITIES APPLIED TO ALL THEIR CITIZENS. IT MEANT THAT A GREAT DEAL OF PRESSURE AND PERSECUTION CAME UPON THIS CHURCH BECAUSE OF THEIR UNWILLINGNESS TO SAY "CAESAR IS LORD."

IN FACT, IT WAS DURING THIS TIME THAT ONE OF OUR GREAT CHURCH FATHERS, POLYCARP, WAS BURNED AT THE STAKE FOR REFUSING TO PROCLAIM THAT CAESAR IS LORD.

POLYCARP HAD BEEN BISHOP OF THE CHURCH FOR OVER 40 YEARS. HE WAS NOTED AS SAYING, "FOR 86 YEARS I HAVE SERVED HIM AND HE HAS DONE ME NO WRONG. HOW THEN CAN I BLASPHEME MY KING WHO SAVED ME? I AM A CHRISTIAN."

POLYCARP WAS CONDEMNED AS "THE TEACHER OF ASIA, THE FATHER OF THE CHRISTIANS, THE DESTROYER OF THE GODS." PERSECUTION WAS, INDEED, THE WATCHWORD OF THIS PARTICULAR CHURCH!

IN EVERY AGE SINCE THEN, THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST HAS SUFFERED THE RETALIATION OF AN UNBELIEVING WORLD. WHILE THIS HAS TAKEN DIFFERENT FORMS, IT HAS ALWAYS REVEALED A SHARP AND UNDENIABLE CLASH BETWEEN THOSE WHO BELIEVE GOD AND THOSE WHO DO NOT.


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