Summary: When persecution and trial attack God’s people, even some of the most faithful ask: "Where Was God?"
OPEN: Clarence Jordan, author of the "Cotton Patch" New Testament translation and founder of the interracial Koinonia farm in Americus, Georgia, was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister’s church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decorations.
As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop the steeple.
The minister smiled and said "That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars,".
"You got cheated," said Jordan. "Times were when Christians could get them for free."
APPLY: What did Clarence Jordan mean by that? What did he mean that once upon a time “Christians could get crosses for free?” He meant that 1000s of Christians had died for their faith. They died on crosses, they died in arenas, and they died in lonely prison cells.
Christians down thru the ages have suffered terribly for their faith.
ILLUS: We recently received word, that some missionaries in Honduras were attacked by wicked men who not only robbed their college of its computers and other equipment.
They also robbed the missionaries of their personal possessions. The missionaries had to return to the States for intense counseling.
One person who heard about this tragedy asked a very harsh question: “Where was God?”
I. You could have asked the same question at Smyrna. Smyrna was not a friendly place to be a Christian.
In Revelation 2:9 Jesus tells them “I know your afflictions and your poverty…! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not...”
In the next verse Jesus essentially tells them that this is only the beginning:
“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
What did all this mean? It meant that the Smyrna church had already endured persecution and slander, BUT they were yet to face prison & more intense persecution – even death. Polycarp, one of the best known preachers at Smyrna was executed by Rome for his faith.
Like I said, Smyrna was not a friendly place to be a Christian.
II. In fact, in all of Asia Minor, Smyrna was probably THE worst place for Christians to live.
Cicero called Smyrna, “one of (Rome’s) most faithful and … ancient allies.” And Smyrna proved it’s loyalty to Rome by erecting several temples in honor of Roman gods. There was even an altar honoring Caesar where once a year, every citizen was expected to burn incense and declare: "Caesar is Lord." . After the incense was given the offerer was issued a certificate. Anyone refusing to acknowledge Caesar as Lord would certainly be excluded from the guilds. This would mean unemployment and poverty.
This would have been heresy for Christians. But initially the Church was exempted from this requirement.
ILLUS: According to one author I read:
“Normally, the Roman empire required all of the subjugated peoples within the empire to venerate the Roman gods, including to offer sacrifice to the image of the Emperor. Each conquered people group would be allowed to continue the worship of their traditional deities, as long as they also paid homage to the gods of Rome, thus demonstrating their loyalty as good citizens who sought the political well-being of the empire. But for the monotheistic Jews, Rome made an exception. As long as they prayed for Caesar, they would not have to violate the first commandment by committing idolatry.
In the early years, when Christianity was viewed as simply another sect of Judaism, Christians were also given this exception. But as time progressed and the Jews became more intent on persecuting Christians, the Jews began to argue that Christians were not really Jews at all. In fact, they accused Christians of being seditious. For these Christians believed that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord (Acts 17:7). They were a dangerous element in society that needed to be eliminated for the good of the empire.” (Lee Irons of the Redeemer Orthodox Presbyterian Church at Encino, California)
Apparently, the Jews in Smyrna had successfully convinced the leaders in town that Christianity was a dangerous religion that threatened the good of the community - and of Rome. Thus the church would have lost their exemption and suffered financially because of it. THUS THE PHRASE: "I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." (Revelation 2:9)
III. So - the church at Smyrna was a struggling congregation.
And if you had been a Christian there you would have constantly faced insults and mistreatment. You would’ve struggled to make a living - no one would hire you. Your children would be targets for bullies and constantly in fights. you would have lived in danger of losing what little possessions you had. AND you would have faced the prospect of imprisonment & death.