Even though Revelation was written 1900 years ago, it is perfectly in line with our own culture, context, and circumstances—it is with Jesus walking among the church, rather than just distantly giving direction to the church, that he gives us hope even when the heaviest weight of all is added:
Imprisonment/Death (Revelation 2: 10) 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. (Ten days is just a saying, like we would say, “I’ll get back to you in a couple of weeks,” we don’t literally mean 14 days on the hour.) Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Unlike today, there were no country club prisons, only dark, damp, rat invested pens filled with human excrement and barely any food. Jesus starts to re-purpose death. Death comes regardless of how much we diet, workout, refrain from a second cupcake, but Jesus shows that even death has no dominion over our destiny through Him. That instead of the big house, fancy car, wad of money in your pocket, being the best that life will ever be—Jesus offers us the victor’s crown. Crowns set people apart, the High Priest, the Emperor, the athletic victor or conquering king, but while the world tells us death is when the crown is removed forever, Jesus tells us that death is when the crowning begins.
Unfortunately, the letter to the church in Smyrna could still be written to churches all around the world—as ISIS beheads Christians in Syria who refuse to revile Christ, as churches are burned or are demolished in China, as missionaries become martyrs. A Christians is killed every 5 seconds by some estimates, but this desire to endure, to pass the test can come in every area of life—as a husband/wife, parent/ sibling, faithful brother or sister in Christ, church member.
The Washington Post ran a story in 2008 that captured just how far one parent was pushed of enduring, even to the point of death, Thomas S. Vander Woude, a father of seven sons, got back from church and set about to finish some hard work with youngest, 20 years old son Joseph, who has down syndrome. As they were working, Thomas saw his son fall through a covered 2X2 opening in the septic tank which was under construction. Vander Woude rushed to the tank; a workman at the house saw what was happening and told Vander Woude’s wife, Mary Ellen, police said. They called 911 about 12 p.m. and tried to help the father and son in the meantime. At some point, Vander Woude jumped in the tank, submerging himself in sewage so he could push his son up from below and keep his head above the muck, while Joseph’s mom and the workman pulled from above. When rescue workers arrived, they pulled the two out, police said. Vander Woude, who had been in the tank for 15 to 20 minutes, was unconscious. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.
It is the very parallel of Christ, who threw himself into our muck so we could take a breath of the fresh air…who was clean and became dirty, who was free and became a slave, who was above all and yet allowed himself to be submerged. Who took on all the risk of rejection so we could rise above. We get a chance to be imprinted with the image of the Lifesaver Luke 9:24- For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
Henry Varley, a British revivalist who befriended D.L. Moody, said the famous words, “the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him?’ How much more powerful—if we are a church consecrated to him—each of us deciding to leave the trinkets for the treasure. We may appear poor, but we are rich. We may be slandered but we won’t shrink from our responsiblity or opportunity. We may be pierced in the flesh and yet we are being made whole in the Spirit.
I want you to hang on to your penny—not because it is good luck or has magic powers, but so you can remember the innovation of the penny press—the cost was great—but the product is something worth keeping!