Reading: Revelation 2:8-11
The second divine message is to the Church in Smyrna. Each of the letters have a similar rhythm:an introduction, a commendation, a complaint or concern and finally a correction. There are a couple of exceptions, Laodicea has nothing to commend it, only concerns and corrections while Smyrna and Philadelphia appear to have it all sorted.
In each of the letters the introduction contains a description of Jesus that has elements of the original vision (Rev 1:9-18) that are particularly pertinent to that church. Yesterday, Jesus was described as the one who holds the seven stars (that is the seven ‘messengers’ or pastors of the churches) who walks among the lampstands (the churches), these images are significant because unless Ephesus repents and returns to its first love its lampstand will be removed.
To Smyrna, Jesus is described as the ‘First and Last’ (8), reminding us that he has utter control of history. He doesn’t just know the future, he holds the future, fills the future and determines the future! Further, he is the one who died and came to life again (8), his followers do not need to fear death as he would not be ashamed of them in heaven.
Jesus’ power and sovereignty must be a great relief for this church, as they are going through times of persecution and tribulation. These troubles are physical, economic, social and religious, and in all this Jesus says “I know”. I love that! Jesus’ understanding of their troubles is not just theoretical head knowledge, he knows it, he’s there with them. Jesus tells them despite all this, not to be afraid. (10)
Smyrna listened to the words of this letter and lived as if Jesus was in charge, despite the challenges around them; they knew even if they lost their lives Jesus would be there, and would welcome them into heaven. One of the early pastors of the church at Smyrna was called Polycarp, he knew the Apostle John and is mentioned in some very early Christian letters. As Bishop of Smyrna he was denounced to the government, arrested, and tried on the charge of being a Christian. When the Proconsul urged him to save his life by cursing Christ, he replied: “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
Polycarp was sentenced to be burned. As he waited for the fire to be lighted, he prayed:
Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed and beloved
child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of
you, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole
race of the upright who live in your presence: I bless you
that you have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be
numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for
resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the
incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. Among them may I be
accepted before you today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice,
just as you, the faithful and true God, have prepared and
foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things
I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal
heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved child, through
whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for
the ages to come. Amen.
The fire was then lit and Polycarp lifted his eyes to heaven in perfect peace, the fire took the shape of a ship’s sail and made a wall around him, there was a wonderful fragrance in the air like precious spices or frankincense. Polycarp appeared not to burn but looked like gold or silver refined in the furnace, finally a soldier stabbed Polycarp to death as the incredible sight became too much for the Romans. His friends gave his remains an honourable burial, and wrote an account of his death for other churches. (Eusebius ‘The History Of the Church’ p121-122 Penguin 1989)
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
“ I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich!” (Rev 2:9)
Father, maker of heaven and earth, who gave Polycarp boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Saviour, and steadfastness to die for his faith. Give us grace, help us not to be afraid to share Jesus with those around us. Thank you Lord Jesus you are the First and Last, you reign over all. Please Lord, would you reign in and over me today. Thank you. I know that you will never leave me, ever! Amen
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