October 16, 2022
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 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 life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
“It will only hurt for a moment.” Many of you have heard this at least once in your life. This phrase prepares you for and keeps you from turning away from pain because after the pain will come healing. I heard those words while sitting in the emergency room when I was in high school after taking a knee to my nose during a soccer game. I will spare you the details of the cleaning of the wound, but let you know I left the hospital with four stitches across the bridge of my nose.
It is natural to avoid pain. In our Gospel reading from Luke 16, Jesus told a parable about a man in pain and a man who lived a life of luxury. Jesus said,
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”Luke 16:19-21
After hearing the introduction to Jesus’ parable, many of the people listening at that time as well as today would not be thinking to themselves that Lazarus had the better life. Comfortable, high-quality clothing and luxury day after day sounds much better than even one day living with sores all over your body and begging for scraps of food to eat just to survive. But then Jesus said that the rich man died and went to suffer torment in hell, while Lazarus was taken to Abraham’s side in heaven. The rich man begged for relief in hell, but he was told he had already received good things in his life and that no one can cross the space between heaven and hell. He then begged for Lazarus to be able to go and warn his brothers about hell, but
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”Luke 16:29-31
Moses and the Prophets, which would be the Old Testament of the Bible, along with the New Testament are the only thing that can turn someone away from finding riches in the world and suffering eternal pain in hell to faith in Jesus which means suffering in the world and eternal peace in heaven.
Momentary pain is still pain. Even though you are confident that temporary pain will bring healing from something as small as ripping off a Band-Aid after it has protected a healing wound or enduring moths of chemo treatments in the hopes that all the cancer will be gone, it still causes us to pause as we weigh the pain against the outcome. Since the threat of pain even at the chance of healing makes us pause, we need encouragement from others to endure the pain, especially when faced with the significantly painful situations of our lives.
Our New Testament reading from Revelation 2 addressed a pain unique to Christians. The beginning of our reading from Revelation 2, reads, 8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” Smyrna was one of seven churches in Revelation that received a letter. This letter was addressed to the angel, which means messenger. We would call him the pastor, who is called to deliver the specific message of God’s Word, which is Jesus’ forgiveness for our sins. This message came from Jesus, referred to as “the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” These words describe Jesus as true God, the beginning and the end, uncreated, eternal, the highest authority, being and power, and also true man, who took on flesh and blood living as one of us, who died, but rose from the dead, is alive today and will remain alive forever. Then, we hear the situation in Smyrna, 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! Jesus knew the Christians in Smyrna faced afflictions, which were likely persecutions for abandoning the pagan gods and lifestyle of their society to follow Jesus. They were also poor and likely from the lower end of society where Christianity was popular at the time. Yet they were described as rich. Spiritually, they were rich in Christ, but they suffered and were poor leaving them open for the devil to pounce on their pain poisoning them with the lie that suffering for Christ’s riches will not be worth it.
You as a Christian are also tempted by the lie that suffering for your faith in Christ will not be worth it. The Christians in Smyrna were slandered as we read in Revelation 2, “9 … I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” They were told that since they were not Abraham’s direct descendants and because they were not following Old Testament ceremonies that they were not God’s people, but Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews in John 8,
42 … “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.John 8:42-44
Those who slandered the Christians in Smyrna did so because they rejected Jesus and were lost to the devil’s lies. You face the same type of slander when others who say they are Christians criticize your beliefs. You face criticism for not having a progressive view of Scripture and a new way of teaching marriage, the creation of the universe, Jesus as the only Savior or the power of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You suffer when those who reject Christianity criticize you for not joining in their worship of politics and celebrities, giving their offerings to luxurious lifestyles or sacrificing their children on the altar of whatever makes them happy. You suffer criticism for disciplining, providing structure, teaching respect for authority and above all making regular time hearing the true Word of God and seeing a model of the Christian life a priority for your children. When you are faithful to Christ, you will suffer for it as an outcast. And if you are not recognized as being different as a Christian, watch out, you might have fallen into the trap of being rich as the world sees riches and poor in Christ.
Be rich toward Christ. In Revelation 2, the encouragement to Smyrna and all Christians is 10 … Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. The Christians in Smyrna were rich because knew Jesus promised them forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, the inheritance of heaven, the blessings of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You have the same riches. When you are threatened. When you are suffering or in poverty because of your faith in Jesus, and the devil whispers, “Stop hurting for him. Stop serving that antiquated God. Stop your dedication to a cause that has not changed the world. Stop making your life difficult and stop denying what you want to do.” Hold up the riches of Christ. Be faithful. Faithfulness is repetition. It is repeatedly pointing to Jesus as your source of riches. Faithfulness is time. Time and time again hearing opposition to your faith and being ready to hear it again. Faithfulness is comparing Jesus to everything in your life, even comparing death to Jesus. And Jesus will always be more valuable because he gives you eternal life. Unending existence in a state of perpetual health, peace, joy, belonging, security, victory and love is your victor’s crown through Jesus. Nothing can be offered or found that is more valuable. Jesus’ gift of eternal life has made you rich.
When you can buy low and sell high, you will make money in the stock market. Stocks are not for the faint of heart because it hurts to buy low holding on for weeks, months or years until the market changes and you can sell high. The message to the church in Smyrna was, 10 “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.” Jesus knew suffering was coming. He wanted them to be prepared for the devil’s persecutions, and to know there was a time limit. As with the many numbers in Revelation, the ten days were likely symbolic referring to a definite, limited, relatively short period of time known and determined by God. After suffering, it would be time for victory. In our Old Testament reading from Ecclesiastes 5, we read, 12 “The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.” Whether you are rich or suffering or poor, your spiritual rest in Jesus’ forgiveness and the promise of eternal life is sweet. Those who worry about earning and keeping worldly wealth but are spiritually poor will never rest. The letter to the church in Smyrna ends with these words, 11 “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” The second death is hell. You will not suffer there because you are victorious through Jesus who died for your sins and rose to give you eternal life.
“It will only hurt for a moment.” If I would have refused treatment when I was in the emergency room after taking a knee to my nose during a soccer game because of the pain to clean the wound and get stiches, then I would not have been able to breathe through my nose and I would have risked infection. You face pain as a Christian. Jesus knows your pain and how long it will last. He has saved you from this world. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and Jesus will give you the riches of eternal life as your victor’s crown. Amen.