Daily Devotional – I’m Normal.™ I AM Ministries
“To promote Godly living in a culture committed to destroying it”
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Calm under Crisis – Smyrna’s Suffering
What disasters have rocked your life? Death? Divorce? Disease? Disobedience of a child? Downsizing at work? Desperate financial straights? Most of us have been through one or more crises in our lives, or at least an experience that felt like a crisis. The fact is, sometimes God allows His children to be put through the fire of testing and trial so His strength can be revealed in the midst of our suffering. One of His key objectives is to see how we react under pressure.
How do you react to crisis and conflict in your life? Do you lose control? Lose faith? Lose perspective? Lose your joy, your temper, even your testimony as a Christian? Jesus tells the Church at Smyrna (Revelation 2) that our Christian testimony is either validated or negated by whether we remain calm under crisis or whether we self-destruct. He is telling them their greatest opportunity to be a strong witness to His power and glory often comes in the crises and inconveniences of life, not when things are going well. By all accounts, Smyrna was certainly a Church enduring a crisis.
Smyrna was located 35 miles north of Ephesus. It had a deep harbor off the Aegean Sea, which made it an important trade and shipping center. It was a free city, meaning that it did not have a Roman garrison there to administer Roman rule. But as with Ephesus, Smyrna was a pagan city. It contained temples to Apollo, Cybele, Aphrodite, and Zeus. In addition, Caesar was worshipped in Smyrna. His image was carved in stone and people were required to come before his image and burn incense.
The Greek word for Smyrna is “Myrrh”, which means “bitter”. Myrrh was a substance extracted from a thorny tree. The Bible refers to myrrh three times in relation to Jesus: (1) His birth (Matthew 2:11); (2) His crucifixion (Mark 15:23); and, (3) His burial (John 19:39). This fragrant spice was used as an embalming substance and was considered quite valuable.
An interesting fact about myrrh is that it must be crushed before it releases its fragrance. The finer the powder, the more fragrance it releases. In the spiritual sense, this same phenomenon was happening at the Church in Smyrna. The more the people were crushed, the more they were persecuted by the world, the more they released the fragrance and the grace of God. This is always true for the Church – the more it is crushed and persecuted, the sweeter it becomes. The Church flourishes under the heel of persecution because of the purifying effect that comes from God’s grace.
The name Smyrna (bitterness) was a fitting name for the Church because the Church was undergoing intense persecution and hardship, and it was going to get worse before it got better. To encourage them, Jesus makes note of their suffering (Revelation 2:9), yet tells them they are rich. Jesus reminds them to stay cool under crisis and to face their crisis, even death, with faithfulness.
The tremendous assault the Smyrna Church was under is like what Middle Eastern Christians endure at the hand of ISIS. Christians had refused to sprinkle and burn incense before the bust of Caesar and to confess “Caesar is lord”. Christians understood that Jesus Christ alone is LORD. As a result, they were herded into arenas and tortured publicly and martyred as rebels and insurgents when they refused to honor Caesar.
Those who escaped arrest and martyrdom suffered as well. Anyone who refused to burn incense to Caesar was denied a certificate verifying their loyalty to the empire. Without the certificate, they could not find employment, leaving them in abject poverty and destitution. To make matters worse, they were often robbed and plundered of what little they did have. Despite the oppression, Jesus Christ was pleased with the Church’s ability to stay calm under crisis, and promised them “the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
In fact, Jesus was already giving the Church in Smyrna a reward. This Church is one of only two of the Seven Churches that Jesus does not rebuke. There is not a single word of condemnation or chastisement to the Church at Smyrna. He finds no cause for criticism. Instead, He finds them in a faithful and committed body for which He has great compassion and love.
What type of “Church” does Jesus find in your heart when He visits? Would He find you cool under the crises in your life? Would He find a faithful and committed heart no matter what the circumstances, or have you fallen away under the pressures of the day? Jesus is reminding the Church in Smyrna how normal it is to remain cool under crisis, and He is encouraging us to do the same today.
In His love and service,
A servant of Jesus Christ
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