Revelation 3:7-13, The Church in Philadelphia: The Church With an Open Door.

“And to the church in Philadelphia write,
‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”:   ‘I know your works.  See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  Behold, I am coming quickly!  Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.  He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.  I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem,which comes down out of heaven from My God.  And I will write on him My new name.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”‘ (NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, v. 7.

The city got its name from Attalus II, 159-138 B.C., whose truth and loyalty to his ailing brother Eumenes won for him the epithet, Philadelphus (“brother-loving”).  Philadelphia was founded as a center for the consolidation and spread of the Greek culture and language, so was a “missionary” city from the beginning.

The city obtained world-wide fame through a disaster.  Philadelphia lay on the edge of a now extinct volcanic field, but in AD 17 a severe earthquake destroyed 12 cities, including Sardis and Philadelphia.  Evidently, the aftershocks continued for some time and so terrorized the inhabitants that most of them remained outside the city.  Those who did return to the city lived in constant fear of another earthquake.

The Emperor Tiberius helped these stricken cities and in commemoration of his generosity, Philadelphia took on a new name:  “Neokaisareia,” “New Caesarea,” though this name was gradually abandoned.

Philadelphia was distinguished from the other cities by several things:  it was a “missionary” city, there was constant danger, much of the population remained outside the city, and the city took on a new name from the imperial god.

In the last stages of the struggle of the decaying Roman Empire and the growing Turkish power, Philadelphia played a heroic part and held aloft the Christian banner long after the surrounding countryside had been conquered.  During the fourteenth century, it stood practically alone against the entire Turkish power as a free and self-governing city against and amidst the Turkish lands which surrounded it.  Twice, Turkish armies reduced the city to starvation, yet the city stood.  Finally, about 1370-1390, it fell to a combined Turkish and Byzantine army.  What the Turks could not do by themselves, they did by taking advantage of the division and jealousy among the Christians.

2. The Christ of the Epistle, v. 7.

His Personality,

1. “Holy.”  This refers to His inward character.  As Hebrews 7:26 puts it, He is holy, harmless, undefiled.

2. “True.” – “genuine,” as opposed to the claims of “those who say” in v. 9.  This refers to the outward manifestation of the inward character.  In the final analysis, what we do is determined by what we are.

His Power, “opens” and “shuts” and no one hinders.  We greatly need the assurance of this in our day.  There’s too much of the idea that we can somehow “hinder” or “frustrate” the God who created everything.  While we in no way deny our responsibilities or that our actions have consequences, we do deny that these in any way “mess up” the God of heaven.  I firmly believe this is why the churches – and indeed, the world – are in the shape they’re in.  We have the (false) idea that we can “mess Him up”.  The end and obvious result of such a view is the blatant skepticism and atheism we see all around us.  Who wants so feeble a god?

3. The Content of the Epistle, vs. 8-13.

The letter has three promises here:

Operation, “An open door”.  This clause is a perfect participle, meaning that the door is still open.

“able to shut,” implying that someone or is trying to shut the door and stop the missionary effort, but is not able to interfere with the Lord who keeps it open.

“no one” – not even Satan, though he certainly would like to.
1. No one can shut the door because the church “has a little strength”.  This is a great encouragement.  The church was evidently small, unimportant and feeble, especially when compared to the church at Pentecost, yet there is nothing but commendation.  No church can be judged, or may judge itself, by any other church.
2. No one can shut the door because the church “kept My word.”  Cf. John 14:23.  This implies obedience to, as well as, belief in Scripture.  This is a great responsibility.  Too much of our preaching and teaching is out of some commentary – what men say about the Bible.  While such things have their place and can be useful, we need to go to our primary source, the Word of God itself.  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3, not “what does this source or that source say the Scripture says.”
3. No one can shut the door because the church has not “denied My name.”  With reference to the typical teaching from the church, perhaps this is a hint as to the great hour of trial yet to come upon the world – to deny Christ by receiving the “mark of the beast”.

Vindication, v. 9.  There are two interpretations of this verse:
1. The Jews will be forced to confess to the truth of Christianity at the Judgment, or,
2. Some Jews, now opponents, will be saved.

Both interpretations might be said to be true, though we believe the first one is more correct.

Many people, including Christians, forget that this life is not all there is to life.  A preacher of another generation, Rolfe Barnard, used to tell a story, something like this:

“There was a little country church surrounded by the fields of an ardent atheist.  One year, he decided to show his contempt for the church and what it taught.  The church had no air conditioning and so, in the spring and summer, had to have its windows open.  This atheist decided to plow his fields on Sunday, to cultivate his crops on Sunday, and finally, to harvest them on Sunday.  When the season was over, he wrote a letter to the paper in that town.  He said, ‘I planted my crops on Sunday, took care of them on Sunday, and harvested them on Sunday.  And I have a bumper crop.  A bumper crop.’
“The editor replied, ‘My friend, God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October’.”

“God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

Countless millions have died, and are dying at this very moment, and their graves are unsung and unhonored.  Their names are cast out as evil.  Perhaps a believer will be killed while you read these lines.  Even those who aren’t called on to give their physical life are often called on to suffer persecution in one form or another.  Even in our culture, businesses are forced to close because the owners will not do things which violate their faith.  Things which once were unthinkable are now said to be “rights” and woe to those who don’t agree.

God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.

There is coming a time, however, when He will settle those accounts, a time when righteousness is at home, 2 Peter 3:13.  Many Scriptures speak of this and it is unwise indeed to expect real justice in a time when justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off.  For truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.  So truth fails and he who departs from iniquity makes himself a prey, Isaiah 59:14, 15.  Though Isaiah was speaking directly to his own time, what he said of his nation and culture is applicable to this one.

“a synagogue of Satan.”  Because they had rejected the Messiah, no longer was their worship acceptable to God, nor was their synagogue of God, even though they carried the name “Jews,” and nominally worshiped Jehovah.  I wonder if God thinks that of those churches of our day and time which deny every truth of His Word.

“but lie”.  Romans 2:28, 29 describe a “real” Jew:  one who not only has the outward symbol of circumcision, but the inward reality that his circumcision symbolizes – the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in his life.

Separation, v. 10, “I will keep you from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole earth.”

There are several elements to this.

1. A recognition of past faithfulness, because you have kept My command to persevere….  Contrary to what a popular Gospel song used to teach – that the Christian life is “without a care,” we’re called upon not simply to “believe” something, but to live as if that something were true.  While it’s certainly true that we have responsibilities in this present world – we’re children, siblings, parents, spouses, neighbors, employees, bosses, etc. – we have an ultimate responsibility with a view to the next world:  it is appointed for men once to die, but after this, the judgment, Hebrews 9:27.  It isn’t always smooth sailing, sometime we have to go through flood or fire, figuratively speaking, Isaiah 43:2.

2. A promise of future protection, I also will keep you from the hour of trial….  In Luke 21:18, after a description of what the disciples would be likely to suffer, even to death, our Lord promised that “not a hair of your head shall be lost.”  But in v. 19, he finished, “By your patience [endurance] possess your souls.”  All that’s not limited to the first disciples.  I think we see it playing out before our very eyes.  In parts of this world, men and women are suffering unbelievable, indescribable, things for the name of the Lord Jesus.  But they will stand before Him perfect, complete, whole, having lost nothing, but having gained everything.

As far as “the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world,” I’m not sure exactly what that might have meant to the actual church at Philadelphia.  Severe persecution under Diocletian was on the way.  It might have been that.  Or something else we don’t know about.  As far as any typical teaching might be concerned, and again, there is discussion about this, it seems to me that the Lord is promising that believers will be spared from that coming time of trouble  in which He said that unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, Matthew 24:22.

3. a plea for present faithfulness, v. 11, “Hold fast.”  It isn’t enough that we can look back and see how the Lord has blessed us, or what service we might have performed.  Nor is it enough simply to look ahead to that time when “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  Right now, there’s something for us to do.  To be.

The reason for that is that there’s a danger of loss.  Not our salvation, as some teach, but our Lord warned the Philadelphians that they could lose their “crown,” that is, lose the rewards they might have had.  John had something to say about this in one of his epistles.  In 2 John 8, he was concerned that his readers receive a full reward.  And Paul gives the picture of a person going through the judgment and discovering that everything he did was nothing but wood, hay and stubble, and losing everything, though he himself is saved, [yet] as through fire, 1 Corinthians 3:15.

As an encouragement, the Lord said He is coming “quickly.”  From the world’s standpoint, it’s been a long time since these words were written.  From an eternal standpoint, it’s only been a second or two.  Jesus may come before this day is over, or I finish writing this post, or you finish reading it.

John closes this letter with our Lord saying some things that it’s difficult to understand, to picture.  I won’t even begin to attempt it.  But there’s a feeling of permanence, of “belonging,” of things this world knows nothing about.  Our “hope” isn’t in this world, but in the One coming to straighten things out in it.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Advertisements

Revelation 2:12-17, The Church at Pergamos: Married…for Worse.

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write,
‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword. “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.  And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.  Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.  Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat.  And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”‘ 
(NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, 2:12.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, and a period of struggle, his empire was divided among four of his generals.  Two of them, and their successors, are the kings “of the north” and “of the south” mentioned in Daniel 11.  Another general took Asia Minor, the area of the seven churches in Revelation.  This dynasty of Greek rulers centered in Pergamos, making it a royal city, and their luxurious living raised that city to the rank of “First of Asia” as regards splendor.  Thus  Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos vied for, and claimed, the title of “First,” although for different reasons.

Pergamous was famous for several things.  Among them were the magnificent temples of Zeus, Athena, Apollo and Aesculapius, who was the god of healing.  His symbol was the caduceus, entwined serpents of a staff of wood, the symbol of medicine to this day.  His temple was a sort of Lourdes of its day and people came from all over to be healed.  Pergamos was also the birthplace of Galen, who is second only to Hippocrates in medical history.  His voluminous, if somewhat inaccurate, writings were authoritative into the Dark Ages.

In addition, Pergamos was noted for the invention of parchment, probably as a result of the impressive library which was there, which rivaled the one in Alexandria, Egypt.  It also enjoyed the distinction of having  the very first temple dedicated to emperor worship, built for Augustus in 29 BC.  There were many others built in other cities, and even others in this city, but Pergamos had the first one.  It was, therefore, sort of a “cathedral city” for emperor worship.  Moreover, it was the center of Roman provincial government.

The name “Pergamos” seems to have two meanings: high and lofty, and marriage.  Thus the church at Pergamos seems to foreshadow that period of time beginning with the conversion of Constantine, thus ending the persecutions, but entering the church into an uneasy marriage with the world which saw it lose its true purpose and power to become engulfed in a quest for political power and prestige.

At its beginning, Christianity was tolerated by Rome because it was viewed as just another weird Jewish belief.  When it became evident that even the Jews hated the sect of the Nazarene, that toleration ceased and varying degrees of persecution began, which lasted about three centuries.  Then Constantine arrived on the scene.  Christianity was never to be the same.

The “conversion” of Constantine is well-known, how he says he saw a vision in the sky of a shining cross with the words “hoc signo vinces” (“By this you shall conquer”) written across it.  Facing an important battle at the time, he took this to mean that, in this new sign, he would be victorious.  He was.  (By way of irony, his motto was for a time on a certain brand of cigarettes.)

Eventually, Constantine became emperor and took his belief with him.  At first, he simply made Christianity legal, thus stopping generations of persecution.  It was alright if you wanted to be a Christian, but other religions were ok, too.  Eventually, though, he made it official, that is, it was the only allowable religion.

Over the years, Rome came severely to persecute true believers, those who refused to go along with it, wanting simply to live by the Scriptures and not as “the church” insisted.  This was also a practice followed for a long time by the Reformers against the Anabaptists and other dissidents, whose beliefs one Lutheran writer described as “dangerous propaganda.” (Charles M. Jacobs, The Story of the Church, pp. 216, 217.  This was my church history textbook in college.  The Anabaptists weren’t without flaws, true, some serious, but they were mainly despised because they refused infant baptism and rebaptized those who had been sprinkled as infants, after they professed faith in Christ.  Hence “anabaptist: “rebaptizer”.) Though they no longer murder dissenters, that attitude can sometimes still be seen among Reformed writers in their views on certain subjects.

More importantly, Constantine used the Empire as a pattern for how things were to be done.  Granted, the idea of how the church was to be organized had developed and changed since the time of the apostles; he just put the final touches on it.  Gone was the NT idea that the local church was independent and self-governing; it now became just a tiny part of an enormous religious monolith, with Constantine as its head, and Rome as its headquarters.  While there was some adherence to Biblical teaching for a time, (it was during this time that the Arian controversy was settled,) this gradually came to be almost completely replaced by a continually evolving Roman dogma. It did indeed become an extensive and impressive “religion,” with towering church buildings, lavish and impressive ritual, and an overwhelming and authoritarian hierarchy, but all of this has little to do with Scripture, which itself has largely been replaced by Papal decree and “official” church dogma.  What little of it that’s left must be held in agreement with how the church “interprets” it.

It’s not supposed to be about adherence to any particular organization: Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed, or any other, but about faithfulness to the Lord Jesus.  In everything, He is to have the preeminence, Colossians 1:18.

2. Christ of the Epistle 2:12.

He who has the sharp two-edged sword.

This referred to the usual sharp-pointed double-edged sword of the Roman army.  It was also a symbol in that army of a certain level of authority.  Roman officials were divided into two classes: those who had the power of life or death, and those who did not.  The sword was the symbol of this greater authority.  In this way, the Lord presents Himself to the church as having life and death authority, authority He possesses in a higher sense than Rome ever dreamed of.

He would remind us that there is no earthly power which supercedes His, no authority which can annul His own.  We are certainly commanded to be good citizens, Romans 13:1-7, but if push comes to shove in a contest between this world and our Lord’s teachings, then our Lord must have the preeminence.  Cf. Acts 4:19.  And remember, Romans 13 was written by a man who lived at the height of the Roman Empire and was not afraid to assert his rights as a citizen.

Our Lord would strengthen the believers of Pergamos against the fear of the human sword by the greater fear of His own sword.  Also, He would remind them of His power against His, and their, enemies.  The Lord did not want His people to forget Him in the midst of troubles.

3. Contents of the Epistle, vs. 13-17.

 – A reference to their perilous position, v. 13.

The letter to Smyrna emphasized their sufferings, so the Lord said, “I know your tribulation.”  The letter to Pergamos emphasized their situation as being in the very seat of the Roman government in Asia, hence in a place of special danger, so Jesus said, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.”

The citizens at Pergamos were known as “chief temple-keepers of Asia.”  A Babylonian cult called the Magians, being driven out of Babylon, found a haven in Pergamos.  The title of the Magian High Priest was “Chief Bridge Builder,” meaning the one who spans the gap between mortals and Satan and his hosts.  It was acknowledged as the highest priestly office in paganism and was a title held by Roman Emperors, including Constantine, who kept it.  In Latin, this title is Pontifex Maximus.  (Who, today, bears that title?)

“you hold fast to My name.”

The Lord commends His people for their faithfulness to His name in the very center of the worship of the emperor’s name.  This is especially important in view of the problems in the church with some who seem to have wanted to compromise with that worship.  We note that it wasn’t the name of the church or the name of the pastor which was lifted up, but the name of the Lord Jesus.  Baptists aren’t the only ones who emphasize a denominational name, instead of that of the Lord Jesus.  And how many pastors, etc., want to “make a name” for themselves?  As a young man, I worked for a pastor who required that my car carry a sign urging people to “hear (his name).”  There were some wonderful people in that church and I was privileged to know and work among them, but they were woefully untaught in the things of God.

It’s still true that not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends, 2 Corinthians 10:18.

– A Rebuke of Their Perverse Practices, vs. 14, 15.

1. the doctrine of Balaam, v. 14.  Cf. Numbers 22-25.  Balaam was the one who taught Balak to seduce Israel by tempting them to break God’s law against idolatry and immorality.  It seems there were some in the church at Pergamos who saw nothing wrong with going to pagan temples, where gross immorality was part of their “worship.”  Perhaps it was simply to escape persecution, perhaps merely to make it easier to make a living in that world of pervasive paganism.  When religion was ungodly, Satan persuaded men that it ought to affect every part of their lives.  Now that Christ has revealed the true religion, which is to make men holy, Satan persuades men to limit it to an hour or so on Sunday.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, who had a similar problem, that they were not to have fellowship with demons, 1 Corinthians 10:20.  We’re to separate from all sorts of falsehood, regardless of the reasons given for it.  Some of the believers at Pergamos seem to have forgotten this.

2. the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, v. 15.  What was isolated deeds in Ephesus, 2:6, was doctrine or practice in Pergamos.  In a city as government-oriented as Pergamos, such a development perhaps is not surprising,  But again, we see Satanic contradiction.  In the state, which is to govern men, we find a rebellion against authority and the desire to be free of all restraint, while in the church, which is to be self-governing and independent, we see the development of great denominational structures which drown out the voice and vote of the local assembly.  Constantine was probably as responsible for this as anyone because he made it fashionable, even mandatory, to be a “Christian” and gave the bishops great position and power.

– A Repetition of a Peremptory Prerequisite, v. 16.

Repent….

It’s not enough that things are done because everyone is doing it, or that’s how we’ve always done it.  Things must be done in according with the Word of God.  Granted, there’s a lot in our world that the Word says nothing about, for example, the laptop on which I write these words or the car out in the driveway.  I don’t think that means that God expects us to go back to laborious hand-copying of things on parchment or riding on donkeys and camels.  It isn’t so much what something is, as how it’s used.  For example:  again, the computer.  A marvelous invention, yet the most popular websites are pornographic.  Because of that, should we get rid of all computers?  1 Corinthians 10:31 is still true, Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Concluding some instructions covering various situation in life, Paul also wrote, and those who use this world as not misusing it, 1 Corinthians 7:31.  We have to live in this world, but we’re not supposed to forget that we’re going to have to live in the next one, as well.

Christ wants us to clear out the “leaven” of this world in our worship and service of Him.  He tells the church to repent.

– A Revelation of Precious Promises, v. 17.

1. Again, the promise isn’t made to every professed believer, but only to those who “overcome.”  Now, this doesn’t mean some sort of perfection, or some sort of exclusive “club” which only the very best are able to join.  It means those who are faithful to the Lord Himself, not just to some church or other organization.

2. the rewards.

There’s a lot of discussion about what these various things mean.  Based on the circumstances of each church and letter, here’s what we think.

the hidden manna.  Believers have a source of nourishment and strength this world knows nothing about and can do nothing either to supplement or hinder.  This is a promise of “resource.”

– a white stone. – a “tessara”.  Such stones seem to have had several uses.  The one relevant to Pergamos was probably the judicial one.  A black stone indicated guilt; a white stone, innocence.  The believers at Pergamos, and other believers, were being found guilty of atheism because they refused to offer incense to the Emperor’s statue.  Our Lord says He finds the overcomer innocent, regardless of what men might say.  This is a promise of reconciliation, that those who once were enemies of God and rebels against His rule are now His servants, yes, even become His children, as we see in the final promise.

– a new name.  This idea occurs a couple of other times in Scripture.  Perhaps the best known is Paul, whose name originally was Saul.  There’s an example of this in the Old Testament, as well.  In Isaiah 62:4, Israel is given a new name.  In both cases, this change signifies a change in relationship, a permanent and irrevocable change.

To this church, who lived in constant danger of losing their lives, our Lord promises everlasting life

We also have been given exceedingly great and precious promises, 2 Peter 1:4.

Revelation 2:8-11, The Church at Smyrna: Rich In What Matters.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:  I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.  Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”  (NKJV)

This letter has the distinction of being the shortest of the seven.  It also is one of only two in which our Lord has no complaint.  The other is the letter to the church in Philadelphia.

1. The City of the Epistle.

Smyrna was founded about a thousand years before Christ.  In the ebb and flow of history, it had been destroyed and lay mostly dormant for several centuries.  Then it was rebuilt and, in fact, still exists today.  It’s called Izmir, in Turkey.  In effect, the city has “been dead and is alive.”

In these letters, and in His earthly ministry, the Lord used things with which people were familiar to teach spiritual truths:  sowing and harvesting, fishing, eating and drinking, the ordinary things of everyday life, to illustrate the extraordinary things of eternal life.  The people would certainly have made the connection with His statement about Himself living though once dead and their own city’s history.

Smyrna was known for its exceptional beauty.  As one looked up the slope from the harbor toward the city, with temples and ornate buildings on the rounded crest of the hill called Pagos, he would see what was known as “the crown of Smyrna.”  This would fit in with our Lord’s reference to a crown, not of dead buildings, but of eternal life.

The Greek word “smurna,” from which the city gets its name, named a fragrant and very valuable substance, used both for the living, Matthew 2:11, and the dead, John 19:39.  It’s fragrance was released by crushing, an apt metaphor for the suffering church at Smyrna.

2. The Contents of the Epistle.

– His appraisal of them, vs. 8-9.

“I know.”  So often we act as if the Lord doesn’t know what’s going on in our lives, but Scripture says otherwise.  For example, Psalm 139:16: Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed, and in Your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.  There is no escaping His omniscient eye.

There’s some discussion as to whether the phrase “your works” belongs in the text because some manuscripts don’t have it.  Certainly the main theme of the letter is about affliction and not activity.  Yet someone has pointed out that activity for God is likely to bring on affliction.

– tribulation.  An account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, 69-155 AD, a bishop (pastor) of the church in Smyrna, will give us some idea of what early Christians went through:

“Faithful unto death, this venerable leader was burned at the stake in the year 155 A.D.  He had been asked to say, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ but refused.  Brought to the stadium, the proconsul urged him, saying, ‘Swear and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ.’  Polycarp answered, ‘Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?’  When the proconsul again pressed him, the old man answered, ‘Since thou art vainly urgent that…I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian….’  A little later, the proconsul answers: ‘I have wild beasts at hand, to these will I cast thee, except thou repent.’  Afterward:  ‘I will cause thee to be consumed with fire, seeing thou despise the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent.’  But Polycarp said, ‘Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.  But why tarriest thou?  Bring on what thou wilt.’  Soon after the people began to gather wood and faggots; the Jews especially, according to custom, eagerly assisting them.  Thus Polycarp was burned at the stake.”  (Quoted from W. Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, pp. 79, 80.)  Other accounts add that he was also stabbed through the heart.

– poverty.  Quite possibly these believers were poor to begin with, but the pervasive place of religion in the society of that day, with every part of it being tied into the worship and service of whatever false gods were in that particular society, would make the believer an outcast from society, cutting him off from it and making it very difficult for him to make a living or even to live.

Strange,  isn’t it, that when religion is false, Satan has it all over the place, but when it’s true, Satan says, “Oh, no, we have to keep that out of everyday life.”  As in his current idea from the highest levels of our government that Christians may “worship” as long as they keep it in church, but they have to leave it there and must live like pagans and accept whatever ideas the world comes up with the rest of the time.

In spite of all their troubles, the Lord said to the church at Smyrna –

– “you are rich.”  Truly, our Lord doesn’t look at things like we do.  Even many professed Christians have fallen into the trap of “health and wealth” preachers and believe that blessing is based on the size of our bank account.  But the “riches of faith” have nothing to do with all that.

Our Lord said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:36, 37.  Revelation 21:21 tells us the street of the New Jerusalem is pure gold, like transparent glass.  I’m not going to get into the discussion now as to whether or not this is “literal.”  But it certainly tells us that heaven’s idea of wealth is different from ours!    The asphalt we pave our streets with may be expensive, but it’s not worth anything.  No man takes a chunk of asphalt to the jeweler and tells him to put it in a fancy setting in a ring.  No woman wears a necklace of asphalt around her neck.

In heaven, what we think is one of the most precious and valuable commodities is used as pavement!  James 2:5 refers to the poor of this world rich in faith.  The poor believer who has nothing of this world’s goods and is hard pressed to feed his family is wealthier than that person who lives in a fancy gated community and has more than heart could desire.  We just can’t see it and don’t think of it like that.  But “faith” deals with things which can’t be seen, Hebrews 11:1.

But there’s something else the Lord knows about them:

– “the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  This seems like a very harsh statement, but it’s the assessment of the Lord Jesus.

The Book of Acts reveals the difficulties Paul had with the Jews and how they hindered and persecuted him at every turn, cf. Acts 13:45, 50.  Even many believers had difficulty in accepting the idea that one no longer came to God through Israel, but through the Lord Jesus, and that the Gospel was to be preached to every nation.  Peter especially had difficulty with this idea.  This was the reason behind the happenings in Acts 10.

There’s a lot of discussion about the place of the Jews in the current age.  Some say that they have no place at all, that God is done with the nation of Israel as a nation.  Others say that they are still God’s chosen people and try to get them to “accept” Jesus as their Messiah.

I think both views are unScriptural.

If words have any meaning, God is not done with the nation of Israel.  The prophetic books of the Old Testament are filled with promises of Israel’s future restoration – if words have any meaning at all, and aren’t wrested from their context and their message.  At the same time, it is equally clear that Israel has been temporarily set aside and the Jews are not, in this age, God’s chosen people. That place is filled by true believers.

Jesus is not to be presented as the Jew’s Messiah, but is to be proclaimed as Savior.  There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, Romans 10:11.  While it’s true that that verse talks about salvation, there’s not one message for the Jew and another for the Gentile.  Indeed, Paul goes on to say that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, Galatians 3:28.  There are no ethnic distinctions at the foot of the Cross.  We all stand condemned as sinners, regardless of where else we may stand in this world.  A biological link to Abraham means nothing, Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8.  Apart from the grace of God and faith in the Lord Jesus, we are all under the influence and control of Satan, the god of this world, Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4.  It doesn’t matter what we say.  This is what God says.  It’s what the Lord Jesus said in Revelation.

At the same time, this gives us no right or reason to hate and despise the Jews, as some of the early church fathers did.  Some not so early, too….  And some folks today….

– His advice to them, vs. 10.

– “Do not fear…”

Fear is a natural reaction to the idea of pain and suffering.  Jesus doesn’t tell these believers that they have to like what they’re about to endure, just that they’re not to be afraid of it.  It won’t last very long – ten days, however that’s to be understood in this context.  The point is, these things are not permanent, but, in light of eternity, are almost insignificant.  I know.  That’s easy to say in comfortable surroundings, but difficult to hold onto in unpleasant situations.  It’s still true, and, by God’s grace, we’re able to hold onto God’s promises.

I was thinking about this the other day.  Sometimes we can’t really think of a pertinent promise from God for a particular situation.  In such cases, perhaps we just need to “pray Christ,” because all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, 2 Corinthians 1:20.

– His affirmation, v. 11.

Some folks try to use this verse to “prove” salvation can be lost.  I think it says that those who “persevere” are the only ones truly saved.  In speaking of false prophets, who were plentiful even in his day, the Apostle John wrote, They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us, 1 John 2:19.  This is true of professing Christians, as well.  There are multitudes of people who’ve been led to “make a profession of faith” who are nowhere to be found.  In fact, many have become avid opponents of “Christianity.”  I believe this is where so many of the “fundamentalist-turned-atheist” websites and such have come from.

The church at Smyrna was threatened with terrible forms of torture and death.  Our Lord was simply saying that there are worse things.  Warning His disciples of persecutions to come, He said, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear.  Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” Luke 12:4, 5.

In the Greek of v. 11, there’s a double negative – “he who overcomes shall not at all be injured by the second death.”  These saints may have to bow their heads to those who execute the first death – as many are now doing in our day – but who have nothing more that they can do after that.

Our Lord had said something about this in His earthly ministry.  In Luke 21, He said, “Take heed that you be not deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He’, and, ‘The time has drawn near'[date setting]. Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions [increased news coverage ability – radio, TV, internet], do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.”
Then He said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there shall be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake.  But it will turn to you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you shall be hated by all for My name’s sake.  But
not a hair of your heads shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls,” vs. 8-19, emphasis added.

“Not a hair of your heads shall be lost.”

It probably sounds corny in this context, but there’s a phrase the world uses that used here goes so much farther than the world can imagine:

He has our back.

This was His promise to Smyrna.

It’s His promise to us.

Revelation 1:9, “Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make”

I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  

The title of this post is taken from a well-known phrase in the last stanza of a poem written by Richard Lovelace, an Englishman, in 1642.  He was in jail for opposing the idea that bishops should not have civil authority.  His poem has the viewpoint that, because of his love for a woman and her love for him, those who wine and dine festively, or the fish who swim in the sea, or the birds who soar through the air, didn’t enjoy the liberty he did.

While John certainly never knew this poem, he did know the liberty of which it speaks.  Though imprisoned himself, he had a freedom in spirit that the world knows nothing about.

Indeed, although the Lord could have brought it about any other way He chose, without John’s experience on Patmos, we might not have the Revelation.  It’s a testament that, in the words of Psalm 48:14, God will be our guide, even to death, though it wasn’t yet time for that for John.  Still, Psalm 23:4 indicates that the paths of righteousness of 23:3 may lead through the valley of the shadow of death.  Unless the Lord comes back first, they will lead through that valley.

Revelation 1:9 opens the second part of the chapter, which deals with the vision John saw that opens the book.  Verses 1-8 give us the verification of the truth, accuracy and authority of the book.

Our verses tell us –

What he was suffering:  tribulation.

Literally, “the tribulation,” that is, a particular one.

Perhaps a look at the mental and religious climate of the times might help us to understand this phrase.

“Religion” was the binding factor of ancient society, with each nation or region having its own gods.  Rome was faced with the fact that it was an international empire with a multitude of peoples, civilizations, languages, customs, histories and religions.  Rome tried to solve this problem and give a sense of unity to such diversity by personifying the State under the name of the goddess Roma.  Rome still tolerated other religions, although considering them to be inferior, seeing this as a logical and reasonable way to foster unity.  Rome felt that one more god, the imperial god, wouldn’t bother the polytheism of the day.  She even went so far as to recognize the unusual stubbornness of the Jews, who would not worship any god but theirs.  Gradually, however, the emperor became the focus of worship, with this finally become mandatory under Domitian, during whose reign John was imprisoned.

For a time, Christianity was viewed as merely another sect of Judaism and shared in Roman toleration, as we see in the life of Paul, who used his Roman citizenship more than once to his advantage.  Yet the violent hatred of the Jews for the “sect of the Nazarene” showed that these two beliefs differed radically.

Rome generally frowned on any club or society, viewing them with suspicion because of the ease with which such organizations could hide or foster unrest.  Clubs had to register, they could not have a leader and they could not meet more than once a month.  It’s doubtful that local assemblies of believers followed any of this.

There were several other puzzling aspects of this new belief, as well.  Christianity was neither a local or national religion, but spread rapidly among all the nations of the Empire.  Worse, it spread among all classes, even among the countless slaves, who were always a possible source of trouble.  At the same time, it wasn’t long before even members of the household of Caesar named the name of Christ, cf. Philippians 4:22.

Furthermore, Christians kept aloof from much of ordinary society.  The worst thing about them, though, the thing that finally led to their attempted destruction, was their absolute refusal to give the customary reverence to the Emperor.  To the Roman, this was no big thing; it was merely showing loyalty to the State.  We might call it “patriotism.”  The first-century Christian viewed it as an act of blasphemy, with a narrowness the Roman officials couldn’t understand, though the records show that they tried to reason with them.  It all boiled down, especially in the eyes of the Christian, but finally also to the Roman, if in opposite directions, to this:  Who is superior, Christ or Caesar?

As we mentioned above, emperor worship rose gradually.  Julius Caesar was the first to be deified after his murder in 4 BC, and his adopted son and heir was called “son of god.”  Emperors after him had varying attitudes toward this practice, most accepting it, though some didn’t take it very seriously.  Domitian was the first to demand divine honor and saw in Christianity a threat to his claim.  Serious, widespread persecution began during his reign.

It’s true that Nero had persecuted Roman Christians in about 64 AD, blaming them for the burning of Rome, but his persecution, though cruel beyond words, was confined to Rome and believers suffered for supposed crimes, not for their faith.  After Domitian had become Emperor, he executed his own cousin, Flavius Clemens, and banished his own wife, who was also his niece, Flavia Domitilla.  They had become Christians.

It was under the persecution by Domitian that John was sent to Patmos.  And we know that John suffered as a Christian because he was imprisoned for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

I’m afraid we’re headed in that direction ourselves.

Hebrews 12:3-11, Consider…

[3]For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  [4]You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.  [5]And you  have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as sons:  ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; [6]for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’
[7]If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  [8]But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  [9]Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect.  Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live.  [10]For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.  [11]Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  (NKJV)

In turning their attention away from those who had gone before, and our attention as well, and turning that attention toward the Lord Jesus, the writer repeats and amplifies what he said in v. 2, “Consider Him….”  Not just “look,” as in v. 2, but “consider.”  Not just a casual glance, a passing interest, but spend some time looking at Him, thinking about Him, who He was and what He did.

In the verses before us, what He did was to endure the hostility of the leaders of His culture.  Or, as the KJV has it, the “contradiction of sinners against Himself.”  The word translated “hostilities” is “antilogia,” literally, “to speak against.”  I think “contradiction” sums it up nicely.  And it’s the first word in the sentence, emphasizing this action of sinners against the Lord Jesus.

This focus was to be for them an encouragement and strengthening, as it took them away from what they themselves were suffering.  They were to look to that One who had suffered with and for them, who had made it possible to look ahead to a day when suffering would be a thing of the past.  Where their suffering in this life would bring them great reward in the next.  They were to do this to prevent themselves from becoming “weary and discouraged.”  If we have any understanding at all of human nature, that’s always the problem when we spend too much time looking at ourselves.

Our Lord warned His disciples along this line while He was with them.  In John 15:18-20, He said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

But there was something else the writer wanted them to remember:  a reason, at least, for their suffering, vs. 5-8.  It’s a form of discipline.  God understands what happens when we get too comfortable.  We tend to forget our need of Him.  He also understands that this world is in opposition to Him and if we get to following it, then we’re not following Him.  So trouble comes to us in various forms to remind us of important things.  And this trouble may have nothing to do with “persecution.”  It may be sickness or financial difficulty.  Whatever it is, actions, whether ours or someone else’s, have consequences, and it’s sometimes the innocent who pay the price.  So it’s true, we may not “deserve” a lot of what happens to us, but sometimes it’s also true that a lot of the trouble that comes our way is simply the result of our own doings.  David found this out the hard way after his “affair” with Bathsheba.  His life was never the same after that.  Whatever the source, trouble comes our way to remind us not to get too comfortable in what someone called “these tenements of clay.”

The writer uses the example of earthly fathers in his teaching, v. 9.  In our day and time, this probably doesn’t mean as much, because “father” is almost a curse word, and it’s up to Mom to raise the kids – single moms and all that.  “Dad” skates by either as a non-entity or a simpleton.  And the idea of discipline that the writer uses is most certainly frowned on in our society:  For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives, emphasis added.  Any real idea of discipline, or making a child “mind,” is frowned on.

Let me tell you a story.  I don’t think I’ve ever posted it on the blog.  My grandmother was a teacher.  When she was just starting out, she applied for a job at a particular school.  This school had been through three teachers very quickly because of a certain student in the school.  He simply drove them out by his actions.  Now, the school board was honest with her and told her of the problem and asked if she were still interested.  She asked if they would back her up.  They would.  So she took the school.  Remember, this wasn’t a monstrous structure like what passes for “school” in our day, where kids are herded together like cattle.  Sure enough, this kid began to make trouble.  I don’t remember exactly how she told the story now, but she grabbed him by the arm and took a yardstick to him.  When the student got home, and his parents found out what happened, they wore him out, too.

Fast forward about 25 years.  Grandma and Grandpa are on a vacation trip through New Mexico to visit Carlsbad Caverns.  This was in 1946 or ’47.  Out in the middle of nowhere – no interstate highways, no “rest areas” – the car began to overheat, so Grandpa pulled into a little service station to get some water for their ’39 Studebaker.  He walked around to the back of the building – and fell over, dead.  As it turned out, the assistant district attorney in this little town – out in the middle of nowhere – was this same fellow.  He thanked Grandma for straightening him all those years before, because if she hadn’t, no telling where he would have wound up – certainly not on the right side of the law.

Now…

you can imagine what would happen if Grandma were a present-day teacher and tried that with a “troubled youth” in her class…!

We’ve gone so far away from any idea of raising kids to be respectful and obedient that we’ve brought about the mess we see them in today.  Not all of them are troublesome, to be sure, there are still some who are raised right, but the majority of them, to varying degrees, live lives that wouldn’t have been tolerated in my youth, let alone in Grandma’s!  She had 10 or 11 brothers and sisters and when folks came to visit her parents, all the kids were required to sit quietly on the sofa until the visitors were gone.  “Children should be seen and not heard” is a dictum that’s gone the way of the dinosaur.  They certainly weren’t allowed to scream and carry on in the restaurant or grocery story like we see two- and three-year-olds doing so today!  These little monsters run the family, and their parents have no idea about what to do, and indeed, are powerless to do anything about it.  I see these little ones around today and wonder what their parents are going to do when their kids get old enough to really do damage.

We see what’s going to happen with the rampages and shootings done by young people that are so in the news today.  Liberals, who’ve rejected Scripture in every area of life and who are responsible for the chaos in our society, believe that “gun control” is the answer – the only answer.  While this post is not a defense of the Second Amendment of our Constitution, it might serve as a rebuttal to this simplistic non-solution.

Let me tell you another story – one I may have used on the blog before.  When I was a teenager – and not a model one by any means – the high school I went to in a large city out West was in a “tough” neighborhood.  Years later, one of my friends characterized it as a “ghetto” (although I suppose that’s too harsh an assessment in this day of political correctness).  Most of the times I walked to school, about a 45 minute trip (and no, it wasn’t uphill both ways).  If it was bad weather, my Mom, who had to be at work at 7:00 AM, would take me to school, and I would be the very first one there – even before the lunchroom staff.  In the basement of this “tough” school was a rifle range – with rifles and live ammo (locked up, of course).  I qualified as a marksman on that range.  But there was never – ever – any idea of trouble because of the presence of those guns.  It just wasn’t thought of.  You could buy rifles at the local dime store.  I don’t remember ever hearing of a “drive-by shooting” or of a rampage like we hear so often about today, even when we lived in an area of town which now suffers those.

The trouble today isn’t the presence of guns, in spite of the rantings of liberals, but the abandonment of our youth to their own devices and the rejection of Scriptural principles for life and living.  Perish the thought that we damage their “self-esteem”!  But the problem is that they’ve got too much self-esteem.

God told Israel something about this.  In Hosea 4:6, He told a rebellious and wicked Israel, “Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

We don’t like this idea of God.  We want a God who is all loving and soft, a kindly grandfather-type who smiles at the foibles and follies of His children.  The God of the Old Testament is characterized by unbelievers as a monstrous bully, but even Hebrews, a few verses from where we are, describes Him to those who thumb their noses at Him: For our God is a consuming fire, Hebrews 12:29.

Israel had been given clear and strict instruction about the raising of their children.  These kids were to be grounded in the Scripture Israel had, which had a great deal to do with how God had delivered her from Egyptian slavery and how she was to live in light of that.  She was warned about forgetting God.  In Deuteronomy 8:11, Moses warned Israel about this, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you this day…, emphasis added.  Israel hadn’t “forgotten” God in the sense that He had slipped their minds; they were very aware of His existence, they just didn’t pay any attention to what He said.  As a consequence, they didn’t raise their children right, and their children went further astray even than they did – with all the consequences of that.

In the same sense, we have forgotten God in our day, and we see the consequences all around us.

But, the writer tells us, there is an “afterward.”  By the grace of God, my wife and I raised four children to mature and productive adulthood.  It wasn’t easy for my wife, though.  She was able to be a stay-at-home mom for fourteen years, until the kids got a little older.  I worked long hours and even when I was home, I’m sorry to say, I wasn’t a very attentive father.  I still had some growing-up to do, too.  But now, we’re able to rejoice in grandchildren and have watched four of them grow to the stage where they are getting ready to leave the nest, so to speak.  It’s been a joy to watch them grow from infancy to where the boys are taller than we are.  I kid our daughter that in a few years, she might be a grandmother herself and she tells me that she isn’t ready for that!

The point is, the troubles of life may be hard to go through.  Compared to what our Lord suffered, though, they are nothing.  One of the Reformers said that his sufferings were but chips and slivers compared to his Lord’s cross.  And if I understand Scripture what we see today is nothing compared to what lies ahead, though it’s very difficult to see that sometimes.

The writer makes an interesting and challenging statement in the middle of his thought.  After saying that chastening is simply God disciplining His children, he says, But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons, v.8.

“Illegitimate.”

That doesn’t mean anything today, but it was a big deal back then.  And, spiritually speaking, it doesn’t seem to mean very much today, either.  According to some, we’re all children of God, so there aren’t any illegitimate children.  Others seem to have a very broad definition of the term, “children of God.”  Our writer has his own definition: enduring chastening, or discipline.  This seems counter-intuitive to our time, in which many think that trouble should be the farthest thing away from the Christian life.  Health, wealth and all things good – these are the Christian life, not trouble.

It’s true in this country that we’ve enjoyed a long time of freedom in spiritual matters.  This country was founded with respect for the Bible and Christian principles, regardless of what the revisionists tell us.  Though it’s always been around in some form or another, it’s only within the last decade or so that opposition to the Bible and Christianity has really become public policy.

I don’t know what the future holds in the short term.  I do know there’s coming a time when, in the words of Daniel 12:2, many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament.

Until then, consider Him who endured such hostility of sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged….

 

Hebrews 11:32-38, Faith: Paradox and Promise.

[32]And what shall I say more?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jepthtah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:  [33]who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, [34]quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  [35]Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  
[36]Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  [37]They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword.  They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – [38]of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11 has been called “the hall of heroes.”  Men and women who did great things for God and were themselves great saints.  Yet this portion starts with men that we might not put into that category.  Here are some men of whom we might say, “What?!  Wait!  Why are they included?”

Gideon did indeed bring a great deliverance to Israel, but then led her into idolatry, Judges 6-8.  Barak, probably the least known of the four, was a man who reluctantly obeyed God, Judges 4, 5.  Jephthah is a man about whom the world and even many Christians have nothing good to say, Judges 11.  I’ve done a post on him if you’re interested.  He certainly isn’t one who is thought to be a “hero.”  Samson, who did do some mighty things, yet is perhaps best remembered for his dalliance with Delilah and his eventual death while a prisoner of and serving to amuse the enemies of his people and his God, Judges 13-16.

Here’s the first paradox.

To have faith doesn’t mean to be perfect and without faults.

There’s only ever been One who was able to say, “I always do those things that please Him,” John 8:29, emphasis added.  All the rest of us fall way short.

God doesn’t deny the faults of His people.

But then, neither does He define His people by those faults….

The second paradox is found in the rest of our text.

Some of God’s people may indeed do great things, vs. 33-35a.  While it’s difficult to know exactly who, if anyone, the author had in mind on some of these things, still, it could be said of Joshua that he conquered kingdoms.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel, even David, received great and wonderful promises.  Daniel certainly is one who stopped the mouths of lions.  His three friends quenched the violence of fire.  More than once, a badly outnumbered Israel turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  At least one grieving woman saw her dead raised to life again.  There are a lot of people the author could have had in mind.

The paradox is this:

Some of God’s people may suffer great things, vs. 35b-38.

We live in a time when, at least in this country, folks on TV tell us that health and prosperity and all good things are the lot of the Christian.  Great ministries have been built on this premise.  The truth is that while these things may and do come to Christians, more often than not their history has been written in their own blood.  This is especially true of those times when “the church” has sat on the throne.  This was true both of Rome and of the Reformers.  And suffering Christians, of whom the world [is] not worthy, live today in a large part of the world, and always have.  We just don’t see it on the 6 o’clock news.

The Apostle Peter put it like this, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you, 1 Peter 4:12, emphasis added.  The word translated “strange” doesn’t mean “unusual,” but “foreign.”  Some folks seem to have the idea that any idea of “suffering,” whether personal or otherwise, should be “foreign” to them.  But you can’t really read the New Testament without seeing that this is not true.

But, if this world is all there is, as some think, or if we’re all headed to “a better place,” as others think, why would people endure such things?  The answer’s found in v. 35, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Now, that word “might” doesn’t mean “might or might not,” as if there’s some question about it.  It speaks to purpose, not just possibility.  Faith understands the paradox, but rests on the promise.  As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.  Or Peter, We according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells [is at home], 2 Peter 3:13.

For the Christian, this world is neither our home, our heaven or our hope.

 

A Servant Girl

God’s heroes aren’t always mighty warriors.  More often than not, they’re just ordinary folks doing extraordinary things.  When all is said and done, it may not be the personality who stands in front of thousands and has a world-wide ministry who gets the “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  It may be the bed-ridden saint who prays for him.

An example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things is found in 2 Kings 5:2, 3, only two verses out of more than 31,000 in the Bible, but extraordinary for all that.

And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel.  She waited on Namaan’s wife.  Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria!  For he would heal him of his leprosy.”

The “master” was Namaan, a mighty and successful warrior for one of Israel’s enemies, Syria.

We’re told nothing else of this girl, probably in her teens, though we don’t know.  The Hebrew word could mean “young woman.”  Any way, what’s important isn’t her age, but her attitude.  No doubt, she had seen or heard terrible things in the forays of Syrian raiders into her homeland.  Perhaps she had seen her parents or friends or neighbors slaughtered.  Maybe, if she were a young woman, she had been taken from a family of her own.  She had been dragged into an enemy country and made a slave.  Who knows what indignities she herself might have endured.

And we’re not told what prompted her remark. Perhaps it was in the closeness of daily household activities.  Maybe his wife was lamenting his condition.  Perhaps the wife’s remark wasn’t even addressed to her, she just overheard it.  However it came about, something happened and she had to respond.

How easy it would have been for her to be vengeful, to think, “Good!  He deserves it!”

To say nothing….

But she didn’t.

She had compassion on him, and on his wife, and told of a place of cure.

An ordinary girl, doing an extraordinary thing.

What a lesson for us!

What an example of Matthew 5:44, where our Lord said, “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”!

After all, isn’t that what He did with us?