Christ’s Letter to the Church in Smyrna

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service based on Revelation 2:8-11

Dear church of Christ who will not be hurt by the second death: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We focus far too much on our first death, that is, our physical death. Our time and energy and money are consumed by the things of this life, rather than that which relates to eternal life. We thus show we are more concerned with our first death than we are with the threat of the second death, which is eternal death, or with eternal life.

If we are honest with ourselves and count the hours we spend on matters related to this life versus the matters related to eternal life, we will see that this is very true. We spend hours working for material goods to benefit us in this life. We spend energy on planning meals, shopping, and cooking to nourish our physical bodies. We spend money on recreation, leisurely pursuits, and getting rested so that we can go back to work for more material goods and nourishment for our bodies.

How many hours per week do you spend on spiritual pursuits which relate to eternal life? How much time do you spend per week on planning and ensuring your spiritual nourishment? How much money do you spend per week to ensure that you will receive spiritual rest in this place to strengthen you through the spiritual battles of this life to eternal life?

This examination of our own failures can help us to understand why tribulation or persecution can be good for the Church. Tribulation can change our focus to the eternal, instead of being so preoccupied with the temporal. Tribulation can cause us to release our grip on the things of this world that are passing away, and cling to what is eternal.

However, for the Church in Smyrna facing tribulation, persecution did not help them focus on the eternal. They were in poverty and being slandered by the unbelieving Jews, who Jesus calls a synagogue of Satan. Jesus told them that the devil is about to throw some of them into prison as persecution was about to increase. They were afraid.

The Church in Smyrna may not have focused as much time, energy, and money on the pursuit of material goods, nourishment, and leisure as they had before the tribulation, but they were still focused on this life. They were still afraid of the first death, their physical death from this life. Tribulation undoubtedly refocused their use of time, energy, and money, but now they lived in fear over what was about to happen to them and what slanders were spreading around about them. They were still more concerned about their monetary poverty than spiritual riches. Their focus was fear of persecution; fear of suffering; fear of death. Here too, in Smyrna, the people were more concerned about their first death, than about eternal life.

Thus, Jesus writes the Church in Smyrna a letter saying, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer… Be faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life… The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” These are words of comfort to troubled and fearful hearts.

Because these words of comfort are “the words of the first and the last, who died and came to life” we don’t have to be afraid of the first death. Christ is the first because He is the cause and source of our faith and life since He died and came back to life. He is the first, because He is the founder of our faith (Heb. 12:2) and the first born from the dead (Col. 1:18). Christ is the last, because He is the goal and object of our faith since He is the giver of eternal life.

His promises give comfort in tribulation because He assures us the tribulation is short. To the Church in Smyrna, Christ says they will have tribulation for ten days. A symbolic number, but nevertheless an indication that the time is short. As also Saint Paul writes in Romans chapter eight, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (v. 18)

We also heard in Peter’s First Epistle of the living hope that we have through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us. In this we rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, we are grieved by various trials (I Pt. 1:3-6).

A little while. Ten days. It’s not worth comparing to eternity in heaven. It’s not worth comparing to the glory and joy of heaven.

This is Christ’s promise to His Church. So, do not fear. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matt. 10:28). Do not fear the first death because you will rise from the dead. Do not fear the second death, which is eternal death, because Christ writes to His Church that you will not be hurt by the second death.

Christ will give you the crown of life – a symbol of victory over fear, death, and the grave. Christ wore a crown of thorns and suffered and died for you, so that you have the promise of the crown of life and eternal life with Him in heaven. This inheritance is waiting for you. It will never perish. It will never be defiled. It will never fade.

Thus, do not fear what you are about to suffer.

But don’t allow your time and energy and money to be consumed by the things of this life. Rather, focus on eternal life. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matt. 6:19-20)

Spend time in reading God’s Word and serving your neighbour. Spend your energy in making sure you receive spiritual nourishment. Spend your time, energy, and money on supporting this congregation, and come here often to receive spiritual rest, nourishment, and strength for the days ahead.

Do not fear. Do not fear even though the earth gives way, and the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea (Ps. 46:2).

Do not fear because it is not up to you to keep yourself in the faith. It’s not up to you to nourish or strengthen yourself spiritually. God does these, but He does them through means. He does these things through His Word and Sacraments.

Christ is the first and the last, who died and came to life. His Church is in His hands. You are in His hands. He will keep you faithful to death and give you the crown of life. Through faith you will conquer, and you will not be hurt by the second death. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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