STONES-13 SMYRNA-2 THE STONES OF GOD’S WITNESS: PERGAMOS– LESSONS IN LIVING AT THE END OF DAYS
There is a problem each of us face – we can’t get to Heaven in the form we are in right now. Remember flesh and blood can’t enter the Kingdom (1st Corinthians 15.50). So for each of us there must be the putting off of our earthly tent as Paul calls it in 2nd Corinthians 5. This is death for most – and the Rapture for some. So almost every one of us sitting hear tonight are facing almost certain death by the time we reach the collective average age of 77.6 years old.
We aren’t ready to live until we are prepared to die. And we live best when we know what counts when we die. Along that line I have enjoyed the systematic repetitive reading of God’s Word for many years. In fact for the past twenty-eight years I have read the Bible through at a rate of twice through the Old Testament and three times through the New Testament each year. In these repetitive readings I have always looked for something. One of the areas that has fascinated me over the years as I have read and reread God’s Word is the way the Lord records the end of the earthly lives of His beloved saints. I searched each page of God’s Word for the closing scene and the recorded words of God’s saints. What a study.
In the context of Smyrna we need to learn about Ending Well: How to suffer and die Triumphantly.
Tonight will you think deeply with me about how you want to finish life on planet earth. Since none of us know WHEN that will be, God has allowed us to choose HOW that will be. Have you started making preparations? To start our look at Living at the End of Days we need to return to Revelation 2. We are stopped at the ancient ruins, the Stones of God’s Remembrance at Smyrna. There we have found our way to the arches that lead up and into the Forum.
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THE ADMONITION v. 10a “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…”
Look out trouble is coming!
The early Church did indeed have just ten great persecutions under the Roman emperors, beginning with Nero and ending the Diocletian, whose last persecution and probably the most terrible of all, was just ten years long! Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Severus, Maximum, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian and Diocletian, were the ten principal pagan persecutors. However, there was constant, though not always general trouble until Constantine’s edict of toleration.
The pathway to true discipleship begins when a person is born again. It begins when the following events take place: 1. When a person realizes that he is sinful, lost, blind, and naked before God. 2. When he acknowledges that he cannot save himself by good character or good works. 3. When he believes that the Lord Jesus Christ died as his Substitute on the Cross. 4. When by a definite decision of faith, he acknowledges Jesus Christ as his only Lord and Savior.
Here at the ancient Roman Forum of Smyrna martyrs walked to their deaths. They were sent to their death by the power of Rome, directed by the Emperors of Rome. There were fifty-seven Emperors who sat upon Caesar’s Throne. As John captured and recorded Christ’s words in this letter to a suffering church, the 10th Emperor — Domitian sat upon the Throne of Rome. These men held the power of the world in their hands. They commanded the nearly invincible legions of Rome. Wealth and riches flowed like rivers into their Imperial coffers. Yet how did they die? Here is what Charles Spurgeon1 quoted once about these men and their ends:
Of thirty Roman emperors, governors of provinces and others in high office, who distinguished themselves by their zeal and bitterness in persecuting the early Christians, one became speedily deranged after some atrocious cruelty, one was slain by his own son, one became blind, the eyes of one started out of his head, one was drowned, one was strangled, one died in a miserable captivity, one fell dead in a manner that will not bear recital, one died of so loathsome a disease
1 Spurgeon quoted by James Montgomery Boice: Psalms Volume 1 – Psalms 1-41, pages 24-25.
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that several of his physicians were put to death because they could not abide the stench that filled his room, two committed suicide, a third attempted it but had to call for help to finish the work, five were assassinated by their own people or servants, five others died the most miserable and excruciating deaths, several of them having an untold complication of diseases, and eight were killed in battle, or after being taken prisoners.
Among these was Julian the Apostate. In the days of his prosperity he is said to have pointed his dagger to heaven, defying the Son of God whom he commonly called the Galilean. But when he was wounded in battle, he saw that all was over with him, and he gathered up his clotted blood and threw it into the air, exclaiming, “Thou has conquered, O thou Galilean.”
So has it been throughout history. So will it be to the end.
Not a very pretty picture, not a very nice ending. Only Jesus can take the sting out of death. And that is exactly what He promised the suffering saints at Smyrna. And that is what he offers to us.
Smyrna: ending well
The most important decision you will ever make in life is how you want to die! The saints at Smyrna wanted to die in Jesus.
Remember how Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was martyred2 on Saturday, 23rd February, A.D. 155?
The proconsul gave him the choice of cursing the name of Christ and making sacrifice to Caesar or death. “Eighty and six years have I served him,” said Polycarp, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” The proconsul threatened him with burning, and Polycarp replied: “You threaten me with the fire that burns for a time, and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire which awaits the wicked in the judgment to come and in everlasting punishment. Why are you waiting? Come, do what you will.”
And there he stayed until the fires had consumed his life, and his spirit rose safe in the arms of Jesus. Polycarp died, a martyr for the faith.
2 Barclay, William, Daily Study Bible Series: The Revelation of John – Volume 1 Chapters 1-5 (Revised Edition), (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press) 2000, c1976.
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It was not easy to be a Christian at Smyrna, and yet the letter to Smyrna is one of the two in which there is undiluted praise.
Martyrdom3 1. First of all, our lives do not belong to us anyway. 2. Secondly, we are all going to die anyway if the Lord does not come in the meantime. 3. Thirdly, the least we could do would by to die for Him. 4. Finally, it is criminal to hug our lives when through their reckless abandonment eternal blessing might flow to our fellow men.
The Appeal v. 10b “Be Faithful Unto Death, and I will give you the crown of life…”
“Faithful” means be convinced. As in Revelation 1.5 we believe that Jesus is the faithful witness. Christ is faithful so faithful, we saints are convinced that we must rest on Him depending on what he says. Be convinced of Him, He will be your strength and courage.
And unless Christ returns soon all of us face the inevitability of death. Are you ready? Have you planned for the spiritual aspects of your death? So many only get the funeral arrangements and life insurance in order. There is so much more to plan and prepare for as a Christian. The Bible teaches us much about Dying Right! In the Scriptures we find seven good ways to die:
I. JACOB’S ‘S LIFE ENDS WITH HIM TRUSTING THE PROMISES OF GOD. Genesis 47.29-49.33 A. HE LOOKED FOR THE LAND OF PROMISE TO THE END! Genesis 47:29 And the time drew nigh that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: (KJV) B. HE FOLLOWED HIS SHEPHERD ALL THE WAY! Genesis 48:15 Then he blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, C. HE TRUSTED HIS REDEEMER TO CARE FOR HIS SIN! Genesis 48:16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm — may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names
3 William MacDonald, (1975) True Discipleship, Kansas City, Kansas, Walterick Publishers, p. 4, and p. 72.
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of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth.” (NIV) II. JOSEPH‘S LIFE ENDS WITH HIM POINTING TO THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD. Genesis 50:24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (NIV) A. HE GAVE HIS PAST ABUSE TO THE LORD. Genesis 41.51 B. HE GAVE HIS FUTURE PLANS TO THE LORD. Genesis 41.52 III. DAVID‘S LIFE ENDS WITH HIM EXHORTING HIS FAMILY TO FOLLOW GOD. 1 Kings 2:1-4 When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: `If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’ (NIV) A. HE TRUSTED HIS LIFE TO THE LORD 2ND Samuel 22 B. HE ALWAYS GAVE HIS TREASURES TO GOD 2ND Samuel 23.16 IV. STEPHEN‘S LIFE ENDS WITH HIM PRAISING GOD. Acts 7:59-60 while they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (NIV) V. PAUL‘S LIFE ENDS WITH HIM FINISHING THE PLAN LAID OUT FOR HIM BY GOD. 2 Timothy 4:6-8 for I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (NIV) VI. PETER‘S LIFE ENDS WITH HIM S REMINDING THE SAINTS ABOUT THE WORD OF GOD. 2 Peter 1:12-15 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. (NIV) VII. CHRIST‘S LIFE ENDS WITH HIM POINTING THE WAY FOR ANOTHER TO GOD. Luke 23:43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (NKJV)
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Hymn # 372
TONIGHT WILL YOU RISE AND AFFIRM WITH ME, LIKE – 1. Like JACOB I WILL SEEK TO LIVE TRUSTING THE PROMISES OF GOD. a. He Looked for the Land of Promise to the end! Genesis 47:29 b. He Followed his Shepherd all the way! Genesis 48:15 c. He trusted his Redeemer to care for his sin! Genesis 48:16 2. Like JOSEPH I WILL SEEK TO LIVE POINTING TO THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD. Genesis 50:24 3. Like DAVID I WILL SEEK TO LIVE EXHORTING MY FAMILY TO FOLLOW GOD. 1 Kings 2:1-4 4. Like STEPHEN I WILL SEEK TO LIVE PRAISING GOD. Acts 7:59-60 5. Like PAUL I WILL SEEK TO LIVE FINISHING THE PLAN LAID OUT FOR ME BY GOD. 2 Timothy 4:6-8 6. Like PETER I WILL SEEK TO LIVE REMINDING THE SAINTS ABOUT THE WORD OF GOD. 2 Peter 1:12-15 7. Like CHRIST I WILL SEEK TO LIVE POINTING THE WAY FOR ANOTHER TO GOD. Luke 23:43
Year Emperor Year Emperor Year Emperor
23 B.C 1 Augustus 217 20 Macrius 305-307 39 Flavius Severus
14A.D 2 Tiberius 218 21 Elagabalus 308-324 40 Licinus
37 3 Gaius(Caligula) 222 22 Severus/Alexander 306-337 41 Constantine I
41 4 Claudius 235 23 Maximin/Thrax 337-340 42 Constantine II
54 5 Nero 238 24 Gordian I, II, III 337-350 43 Constans
68-69 6 Galba 244 25 Philip and others 337-361 44 Constantius II
69 7 Otho and Vitellius 249 26 Decius and others 361-363 45 Julian
69 8 Vespasian 253 27 Gallienus and others 363-364 46 Jovian
79 9 Titus 268 28 Claudius II 364-375 47 Valentinian
81 10 Domitian 269 29 Aurelian and others 364-375 48 Valens
96 11 Nerva 275 30 Tacitus 367-383 49 Gratian
97 12 Trajan 276 31 Probus 375-393 50 Valentinian II
117 13 Hadrian 282 32 Carus 379-395 51 Theodosius I
138 14 Antoninus Pius 283 33 Carinus and 385-388 52 Maximus
161-180 15 Marcus Aurelius * 34 * Numerian 392-394 53 Eugenius
176-192 16 Commodus 284-305 35 Diocletian 395-423 54 Honorius
193 17 Pertinax 286-305 36 Maximian 425-455 55 Valentinian III
193-211 18 Septimus Severus 293-296 37 Constantius Chlorus 457-474 56 Leo I
198-217 19 Caracella 293-311 38 Galerius 475-476 57 Romulus Augustulus