Calm under Crisis – Smyrna’s Martyr

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Friday, April 1, 2016

Calm under Crisis – Smyrna’s Martyr

One of Christianity’s most famous martyrs died in Smyrna in the middle of the 2nd Century. His name was Polycarp. He was the pastor and bishop of the Church in Smyrna, where he had served for nearly half a century. Betrayed by a slave who collapsed under torture, Polycarp was brought to the public games to be martyred. A sympathetic police captain pleaded with Polycarp to renounce Christ, but Polycarp refused, saying, “How can I blaspheme the King who saved me?” Polycarp was then burned alive.

The kind of overt persecution Christians in Smyrna endured may not seem relevant to your life. However, Christian martyrdom is alive today. More Christians were martyred for their faith in the 20th Century than in all 19 hundred centuries preceding it combined. Moreover, the systematic persecution of Christians is accelerating at an alarming rate. Christians in the Iraq and other Middle East countries, China, North Vietnam, Indonesia, and other nations are being persecuted and killed daily. Radical Islam has openly stated that anyone who does not follow their god deserves death, and they are willing to blow up their own children to try to advance their cause. ISIS is beheading, crucifying, torturing, and killing Christians in droves.

Christian persecution is not limited to death. How calm would you be if you were turned down for a job simply because you are a Christian? How would you react if your children were bullied and taunted at school for espousing Christian values? Would you be willing to remain faithful if your business were ransacked or your home burned because of your faith and people told each other how you deserved it for being a hateful, intolerant Christian? What is your reaction when your Christian teachings are labeled “hate speech” or are sued for refusing to photograph, bake, or cater a homosexual wedding? Or are you prepared, as with myrrh, to release more and more fragrance to God with each crushing blow?

Each Christian should question his or her reaction if they were facing the same threats as Polycarp and the other Christians in Smyrna. Would you be willing to suffer poverty and physical abuse for your LORD? Would you bow your knee to the idol of social tolerance? Would you burn incense to the god of moral relativism or confess that man is lord in place of “Jesus Christ is LORD?”

Christians need to know how to respond to the daily crises and inconveniences as well as to all out persecution. We need to be prepared to be calm under crisis. Our LORD Jesus Christ tells both us and the Christians in Smyrna how to do this. First, we must stop being fearful: “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.” (Revelation 2:10).

Jesus is telling them: “As bad as you think it is now for you, things are about to get worse. Your suffering is about to increase. ” He is telling them the persecutors can only harm the body, not the soul, which He has firmly in His hand (John 10:28-29). Polycarp told his oppressors, “You threaten me with fire that burns for a time and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire that awaits the wicked in the judgment to come in the everlasting punishment. Why are you waiting? Come, do what you will.” Polycarp was a true man of faith.

Second, Jesus is telling them to be faithful: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10). Jesus is telling the world He is sovereign. He is always in total control no matter how bad the situation looks. He is reminding us that He has a great and eternal purpose for every situation and crisis (Romans 8:28). He is also telling us He may not want to change our circumstances, He may want to change US through our circumstances. Not everyone will be spared from the fire as Daniel’s friends were (Daniel 3:19-27). Some, like Polycarp, will be consumed by the Earthly flames for His name’s sake.

The message to the Church in Smyrna and to the Church today is how normal it is to be calm under crisis. Jesus commands us to keep the right perspective on Him, no matter what. Jesus wants us to keep the right perspective on the crisis, even unto death. Finally, Jesus wants us to keep the right perspective on our compensation, because He has a crown of life for His faithful martyrs. It does a man no good to be prosperous on Earth only to perish in the eternal fires (Matthew 16:26).

It is easy to praise God when things are going well (Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13). Jesus tells us it is normal to maintain our cool in a crisis. He always has a purpose in mind when He subjects us to the fires of adversity. Will you commit today to remain calm under crisis so that you, too, may receive the crown of life?

In His love and service,

Jeff Myers
A servant of Jesus Christ


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