Summary: The second in a series of seven. This is an expository, alliterated sermon with practical application based on the letter to Smyrna in Revelation. PowerPoint is avialable if you e-mail me.
You’ve Got Mail: Smyrna
Scott R. Bayles, preacher
First Christian Church, Rosiclare, Illinois
Several years ago, my life was a mess. After enduring a painful divorce, I was jobless and living with a friend. I was an emotional wreck. I couldn’t understand why all these bad things kept happening to me. Then one day I got a letter in the mail—a card, actually. It was from a family at a church that I had served years earlier. They heard what was going on in my life and sent this card as a bit of encouragement. It simply said, “We just want you to know that we’re thinking of you and praying for you.” I don’t know why, but that brief message was a real comfort to me and I still have that card to this day.
Twenty centuries ago, a small band of Christians experienced a very different, yet remarkably similar situation. About forty miles north of Ephesus sat the ancient seaport-city of Smyrna. World renowned for its beauty, Smyrna was often referred to as “first in Asia in beauty and size.” In fact, that very line was imprinted upon its currency. Although Smyrna was enthusiastically Roman through and through, it was also home to a humble body of believers wholly committed to Jesus.
But, because Smyrna was a center for emperor worship and also boasted a small but strongly anti-Christian Jewish population, life for these believers was anything but easy. Many of them were unemployed, unwelcome and under extreme persecution. But in the midst of their difficulties and discouragement, they too received a letter in the mail—a brief word of encouragement, not from some kind-hearted Christians, but from Christ himself. Here’s what he had to say to them:
“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive: I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.” (Revelation 2:8-11 NLT)
Aware of the trouble that these Christians had found themselves in, Jesus decided to express his immeasurable love by sending this letter to encourage and strengthen the church in Smyrna. And like each of the seven letters to the seven churches, Jesus begins this letter by giving his credentials.
• THE CREDENTIALS
In the opening of this letter, Jesus initially describes himself as “the First and the Last.” This phrase, when read by Hebrew Christians, would have immediately triggered memories of the Old Testament scriptures. Deep within the prophecies of Isaiah, the Bible declares, “This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies: I am the First and the Last; there is no other God” (Isaiah 44:6 NLT).
By quoting this sacred scripture in his letter to Smyrna, Jesus was sending a powerful and provocative message. He was saying with unwavering resolve, “I am God! I am the Almighty, the King and Redeemer! I am the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! I am the beginning and the end!” That’s an incredible claim. For many, it’s an unbelievable claim.
Tell anyone that you think Jesus was a wise and wonderful teacher and you’ll get no argument. Announce that you believe the carpenter from Nazareth was an excellent moral example, who would dispute you? But tell the world that you believe Jesus is divine, that he is in fact the God who spoke the universe into existence and some folks just can’t wrap their minds around it. Their queries are summed up by Solomon’s question: “Will God really live on earth among people?” (2 Chronicles 6:18 NLT).
But if Jesus’ claims are true, then he was at once both man and God. If his allegations are actual, then it changes everything, doesn’t it? Not just for the folks in Smyrna, but for you and me and everyone else in the world. Jesus wanted these believers to remember that he wasn’t just a good man or even a great man; he’s the God-man—sovereign and eternal. And he proved it by coming back to life after dying on a cross.
His credentials to the church in Smyrna also contained these words: “who was dead but is now alive” (vs. 8). Jesus wasn’t the first person to make a claim to deity, you know. The Pharaohs of Egypt believed themselves to be gods—the bright and morning star. Those who worshipped the Roman emperor believed Caesar to be god-incarnate. The difference is—when they died, they stayed dead. Jesus authenticated everything he ever said or did when he brought himself back to life. Some of these believers may have seen the resurrected Christ with their own two eyes. Most probably heard and believed the testimony of Paul and others. Today we have overwhelming evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. Not only does Jesus’ resurrection prove his position as the God-man, but it proves his power over the grave and his promise of eternal life to those who believe.