Sun Am Worship
Text: Rev 2:8-11 (King James Version)
"Father, I am your servant, willing and desiring to be used to bless your people."
The Fields are white and the laborers are
2. C.H. Spurgeon said, "If God does not save a man by truth he certainly will not save them by lies, and if the old gospel is not competent to work a revival, then we will do without the revival;
ill.--a cattle rancher got saved and surrendered to
preach. He went to a Bible conference which was all about how to build a crowd.
Asked about it later, he said, "It was strange. In all my years as a cattle
rancher, I never had to go to a conference to learn how to get the cows to come
to the feeding trough. I always just figured that if you put out good feed, the
cows will come."
I'm not calling you a bunch of cows, just making a point!
My job is not primarily to build a church, but to put out good feed. And so we should not be about building a church as much as building people. You build a church one person at a time.
Many years ago, when communism still held the Soviet Union in its iron clench, a little group of Christians met behind closed doors in the underground. This was a secret meeting, a secret church service.
Suddenly, the doors burst open, and 2 soldiers appeared with sub-machine guns. They shouted, "To all those who are willing to renounce Jesus Christ: You've got 5 minutes to leave! Everyone who remains will be shot immediately."
As you can imagine, every Christian in that place began to search their heart, and ask themselves, Am I willing to die for Jesus Christ right now, today?
A few got up and left, ashamedly, quietly, they left w/ heads hung low. Most of the people stayed. As the last one left, a soldier shouted, is that it? He held up his gun and repeated, anyone else? Another man rose and ran out. The soldiers locked the doors, and turned toward the people..
..they laid down their guns..and said, "Brothers and Sisters, we too are Christians. We do not want to worship the Lord w/ anyone who is not willing to die for Him! Now that the half-hearted have gone, let's have church!" What a service they had together that day!
The church at Ephesus, who let their devotion degrade to duty..they represent the careless church. Today, we see the church at Smyrna, the crushed church.
The name Smyrna was derived from the word for myrrh..and how appropriate that name was for the suffering Smyrna church, for myrrh is known for releasing its wonderfully delightful fragrance..when crushed! The members of the church at Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey) were not having an easy time. They were suffering terrible persecution for their faith.
They were persecuted because they refused to compromise / say Caesar is God
Notice v. 9--"poverty" In the city of Smyrna, if you got saved, all of your property / possessions were immediately seized by the government.
Jesus said, I know your poverty..but thou art rich! Yes, they traded the temporary for the eternal. They were materially poor, but spiritually wealthy. And Jesus reminded them, you are rich, because you've given it all up for me, and you have more than could ever fit into a wallet or purse, a bank acct or safe deposit box. You have a home I'm building for you that would make the mansions of earth look like dog houses! And you have a peace and a joy that worldly celebrities could never afford!
In v. 10 Jesus admonishes them not to be afraid, but to be faithful even unto death, and that He will give them a crown of life.
Some object at this point, saying, "You shouldn't serve God for what you can get, don't worry about receiving rewards in heaven, don't be concerned with things like crowns to receive."
This person lacks understanding. For while there are 7 crowns which can be won, we're not going to walk around heaven, parading those crowns in self-righteousness. The Bible teaches that eternity's greatest privilege will be casting our crowns at His feet! Saying, you are worthy of all, you deserve all the glory and honor and praise. I don't know about you, but I want to have some crowns to lay at the feet of my Savior!
In Matt. 5, Jesus said,
10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
When we read verses like that, we wonder. And when we see good people suffer, we are tempted to doubt, and when we ourselves experience trial and persecution in our own lives, we question God, "Why do the righteous suffer, while the wicked prosper?"
I don't have a great answer for that, but I can tell you it has always been that way..since the beginning, even until now!
Think about it:
Abel was righteous..Cain was wicked..Cain killed Abel!
David was a man after God's own heart, why is he constantly dodging spears chucked at him?
Why is Daniel, the purest in the kingdom, thrown into the lions' den?
John the Baptist was referred to as the best man ever born of woman, and they beheaded him!
The Bible says, "All who live Godly in Christ Jesus SHALL suffer persecution! (not MIGHT, SHALL!!)
Perhaps the more searching question to ask is not, why do the righteous suffer?..but rather ask, "Have I, as a Christian, ever been persecuted?"
If not, why not? Or, how long has it been?
And if so, how did I respond? Did I rejoice when persecuted, as the Bible commands? Did I have a desire to retaliate, as the Bible forbids?
Jesus said in Jn. 15
18If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20...If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you..
If you live a life of faithfulness to the Lord, and if you live a separated life, showing a distinct difference in Christ, and if you profess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that people need to be saved from their sins, you WILL suffer persecution. That is a promise.
Throughout church history there have been some grievous periods of intense persecution, not the least of which took place from 100-300 A.D., the Smyrna period. Remember, each of these 7 churches in chapters 2 and 3 represent a period in church history. The early church in Smyrna, when John wrote this in about A.D. 97, was already experiencing persecution, and they had a lot more coming in the future..
v. 10--"which thou shalt suffer" .. "ye shall have tribulation 10 days" The best Bible minds agree this is a reference to the 10 gigantic waves of Roman persecution which ensued just after this was written, over the next 200 years under 10 evil Roman leaders.
Please allow me to take a few minutes and tell you about your heritage. As we look today at a couple hundred years of early Christian history, our lives will be touched and challenged.
10 Great Roman Persecutions: (result of hatred of believers in Christ)
1. Nero (late 1st C.)--Christians were thrown to hungry lions in coliseums, while the blood-thirsty crowd cheered with delight. It was a new spectator sport, watching Christians be torn apart! Nero himself had Christians, wrapped in robes, dipped into giant vats of hot wax, then hung on poles in his garden at night, set ablaze as living, human torches, giving light to his dinner party. Tradition says that the Apostle Peter refused to be crucified like Jesus, and was, by his own request, crucified upside down. Nero had the apostle Paul beheaded, and I find ironic humor in the fact that even to this day, people name their sons Peter, and Paul, and their dogs Nero!
2. Domitian (A.D. 95)--Christians were stoned, whipped, disemboweled, and seared w/ plates of hot iron. Under Domitian, Timothy was beaten to death w/ sticks. The apostle John was boiled in a cauldron of oil, and was exiled to the island of Patmos, where God gave him this book of Revelation. All of the apostles became martyrs during the reigns of these first three evil men..the 3rd was...
3. Trajan (A.D. 111)--Christians were placed in burning kilns .. survivors were cast into a vat of boiling water. A story is told in Foxe's Book of Martyrs of an elderly widow (Symphorosa) who refused to bow before Trajan's heathen gods of stone and wood. She was first whipped, then hung up publicly by her hair, then drowned w/ a millstone around her neck. They took her sons, tied their arms to posts, then jerked those posts violently thru the air, dislocating their limbs, then stabbed them to death..except for the youngest. They took him alive and with a large saw, cut him in 2. Ignatius was pastor of a church in that area. Tradition says that he was the child Christ took into his arms as an example to the disciples of child-like faith. He defied Trajan who cast him into prison, had him scourged, and ordered that pincers be applied to his skin until deformed. As further torture, oily splinters were inserted into his sides, then lit on fire. Before being thrown to the lions Ignatius made his famed statement, "I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread."
His crime? Loving Jesus! Refusing to proclaim Caesar as God! Remaining faithful! Also: preaching against Judaism (works salvation)
4. Antoninus Pius (A.D. 139)--believers were put in cages w/ wild bulls, but rather than fleeing the bulls in fear as Pius wanted them to, many are recognized in secular history for their displays of faith rather than fear, as they threw themselves onto the horns of the bulls, in expectation of meeting their Savior! Others taunted lions, to speed up their impending deaths, and sooner receive their crown of life. It was not uncommon for spectators during this period of time to convert, and trust Christ as Savior, for the real faith they saw displayed before them as Christians died for the Christ whose name they bear!
5. Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161)--made great sport of public executions, stating that Christians desired death in theatrical displays. Under his reign, Justin Martyr, and 6 friends were scourged and beheaded. A famous deacon, Concordus, not only refused to worship an idol, but he spit in its face! For that he was tortured and killed.
6. Septimius Severus (A.D. 193)--Young men were forced to run the gauntlet, and were bashed by their persecutors, then thrown to tigers. Christian women were commonly strung up in nets, naked, before a jeering crowd. They were then removed from the nets and placed in arenas with wild bulls, hungry bears, and wild leopards. A story is told of a Christian woman during this time named Perpetua. She was 26 and nursing a baby. She showed true devotion to God, exalting Him even above family. She refused to sacrifice to idols, and her baby was taken away from her. Perpetua was locked in a dungeon and only allowed an occasional nursing of her child. She was again summoned before the judge and commanded to deny Christ. Her father appeared, holding her baby. He pleaded with her to renounce her faith, and spare her child. She would not. Perpetua was placed in an arena with a gladiator. The gladiator assigned to kill her was a timid young man. He weakly stabbed her a few times w/ his sword, but failed to kill her. She could tell he was troubled by his assignment to kill a woman, and was having much difficulty..and in pity for the youth, she took his sword in her hand and guided him in finding a vital area of her body.
Another young woman named Cecilia led many to the Lord at this time. The Roman government heard of her witness and had every one of her converts executed, then scalded her to death in boiling water.
7. Maximinus (A.D. 235)--under his reign, 42 Roman Senators got saved, thru the witness of the martyrs. Maximinus was outraged, and the heads of all 42 senators were set on the city gates as a reminder of the price that would be paid for faith in Jesus Christ. Many pastors were killed at this time, and other men of the church were pulled thru the streets by wild horses and bulls. A woman of nearly 70 named Apollonia was discovered to be a Christian, and was fastened by a mob to the stake. She pleaded to be released and the people did so, expecting her to recant, but when released she quickly jumped into the fire and there expired.
8. Decius (A.D. 249)--only a 3 year persecution, but perhaps the worst to date. The "Rack" came into use at this time, and Christians were torturously stretched upon it. Strangely enough, this was actually a time of great revival. Secular history records that heathen temples were almost completely forsaken at times, because so many were trusting Christ. Churches were crowded w/ converts. So, Decius tried to put a complete end to Christianity. He had believers sealed into large caves, and left to die. And they would tie them to heavy wheels, and roll them over stones until dead. His focus was not so much to kill Christians, as to cause them to break, and bow down to pagan gods. He wanted them to recant, and convert..many did recant, but multitudes were faithful unto death.
9. Valerian (A.D. 257)--One well known Christian, Seturnius, was dragged down the temple steps until his brains bursted out. Two young women demonstrated deep-rooted character during this time. Rufina and Secunda were engaged to be married to men of high esteem, Armentarius and Verinus. All 4 professed Christianity, but when the flames of persecution came, the young men renounced their faith. The young ladies did not hasten to their pleas to also recant, and they were tortured and beheaded. Another man named Laurence was a church treasurer. His church supported many hundreds of poor, blind, maimed in the area. The Roman government demanded of Laurence that he bring to them all the money in the church treasury. He said, I'll be back in 3 days w/ our church's greatest treasure..he did return, with the poor, blind, maimed. For this, Laurence was roasted on an open gridiron. He died slowly while praying out loud for souls to be saved because of his martyrdom. Indeed, a Roman soldier named Romanus, in viewing such faith, converted, and was whipped and beheaded. [Parenthetically: these things are torture. Forgive me if I don't see water boarding fitting the definition.]
10. Diocletian (A.D. 303-313)--This was the bloodiest of all 10 persecutions. One one occasion, the Theban legion of the Roman army had more than 6,000 Christian soldiers in it. The legion was ordered to sacrifice to idols, and to swear allegiance to Rome. They refused and were decimated, meaning every 10th man was killed. The 90% remaining still would not bow, and a second decimation occurred, to no avail. The nearly 5,000 remaining were cut to pieces by their fellow troops. Women and children were caught, tortured, and killed. Christians were burned along w/ their families and their possessions.
But the winds of persecution only fanned the flames which burned in the hearts of believers! (Over 1 million of which are buried in the catacombs of Rome) Diocletian abdicated the throne in A.D. 305, and the persecutions came to a complete end with Constantine's signing of the "Edict of Toleration" in A.D. 313.
The result of the persecutions was a pure church, a unified church, a growing church, a serious, separated, sold-out church!
The church historian, Tertullian summarized it well when he wrote, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."
Some are thinking, I'm so glad stuff like that doesn't happen today.
Here are some facts for you:
"The past century is known as "The martyrs' century" because more people have lost their lives for their Christianity since 1900 than in all the previous centuries together," writes the mission agency Open Doors, founded in 1955 by a Dutchman known as Brother Andrew, whose 1967 book God's Smuggler has sold tens of millions of copies around the globe.
Shocked by this statement, I did some thorough research, and found this claim independently verified by at least 3 other reputable organizations, including James Dobson's Focus on the Family International. But the media doesn't report such things.
"All over the world there are about 200 million followers of Christ suffering today," says Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, "and it's surprising that nobody, neither the Christian community nor the establishment, talks about it."
"We want to break the silence," explains Horowitz. "We see that people don't want to believe facts. It blows their mind that at Sudan's market you can buy a young Christian slave starting with only two chickens."
Torture and arrest are becoming part of daily life in the Muslim world. In Saudi Arabia there is a special religious police whose job it is to search private houses and make arrests, confiscating Bibles as well as tapes with religious recordings.
The Muslim world is not the only place where Christians are persecuted. "In China many thousands of those who profess Christ live in religious gulags," writes Shea. "They are imprisoned and tortured simply because they dared to pray, sing hymns and read the Bible in public places," she explains. Chinese prisons hold more Christians than any other country of the world.
Christians are also persecuted in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Laos, Nigeria, Cuba, and more and more now in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and many other places. Most estimates range from 150,000 killed each year and up--more than 15 every hour.
"It's terrifying that so few Americans realize that," says Nina Shea. "Our government is indifferent, even hostile, towards all those who are trying to escape persecution."
The most recently updated information is here.
Here in America, religious persecution is widespread, but subtle..in mostly non-violent forms..for now!
Losing a job because you won't compromise your convictions / Being passed over for promotion / people sneering and jeering for your witness.
Churches like ours in America have had it relatively easy for 2 reasons:
1. It's still a semi-free country.
2. We're not witnessing or taking a stand for Christ!
Missionaries tell me their people feel sorry for American Christians, whose idea of persecution is having a door slammed in their face on visitation, or a friend laugh at them if they witness to them. We feel like a martyr today if the cable goes out for an hour!
But as we approach the end of the world, though we will not go thru the tribulation, Jesus made it clear that the shadow of things to come will fall upon us in the form of perilous times. And America may very well face extreme persecution of Christians in the future. After all, we're already spoken of in terms of divisive hate..terms like "radical right wing, conservative fundamentalists, born again extremists"!
We need to ask ourselves today, what if those soldiers burst into the doors of Batlefield Ministries right now..would I stay, or would I leave?
What if you were put on the rack, and asked to renounce your faith? / roasted on the gridiron / scalded w/ water / whipped or beaten / flayed alive / your family threatened?
I did not share today much about the stories of those who DID recant. Sadly, many stories exist..all too many believers have denied Christ under pressure, like the Apostle Peter did three times, following the crucifixion of Christ. Of course, he repented and later took his stand for many years before becoming a martyr himself..faithful even unto death.
I'll be honest w/ you, in preparing for a message like this I had to do some serious soul-searching. I said, "Lord, I feel so unworthy to preach this..Lord, I hope I would be faithful in the face of torture, but I don't know for sure if I would be."
I don't believe any of us can know what we would do in that moment, though we hope we would not shame our Savior..
..but I will tell you today, there is one strong indication you can look for, which will very much measure how likely you are to be willing to die for Christ, and that is, are you living for Him now?
With millions worldwide risking their lives on a daily basis just to attend underground churches, I must confess that I don't have a lot of sympathy for today's unfaithful churchgoers, who feel pressured by the challenge of stepping up for Jesus.
If your faith won't bring you back to God's house regularly, it is highly unlikely it would take you to the gas chamber, if called upon / a faith that does not bring words of witness to your lips in our land of free speech would not likely go to a burning stake to be a public testimony for Christ / if your faith can't get the 10% our Lord requires out of your pocket, I doubt if it would get you to the chopping block for beheading! / if your faith can't keep you away from worldly amusements or can't keep you from fleshly habits, it's not likely it would take you to the lions' den / a faith that doesn't prompt you to obey in the smallest of matters like Bible reading and prayer wouldn't bring you before a firing squad.
How do I know if I would die for Christ? For starters, are you living for Him?
Rom. 12 1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
You can know for certain that you WILL NOT present yourself as a dying sacrifice if you aren't a living sacrifice right now!
God forgive us today for having half-hearted devotion..in light of those who've gone before us!
Lord, help us to live for you, and if necessary, to die for you!
Comedian Flip Wilson used to say when people asked him what was his religion he would reply, "Jehovah's Bystander". "I was invited to be Jehovah's Witness but I didn't want to get that involved." Jehovah has plenty of bystanders, but I wonder who God is calling right now to take a stand.