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the crown of Smyrna
Over 30 years ago as I stood in the beautiful sweep of Izmir’s harbour I looked upwards to the hill behind the city. In Bible times the city was known as Smyrna and the hill was known as “The Crown of Smyrna” because of the way that buildings ‘crowned’ the hill’s summit. It inevitably brought to mind the promise of Jesus to the congregation in Smyrna that the overcomers would receive ‘the crown of life’;
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. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Rev 2:10.
There are some mind-stretching concepts here. This congregation was about to undergo the devil’s wrath against the people of God. God could have stopped it easily but he had chosen not to. Why? Any answer would be just human speculation. Their imprisonment, although the consequence of the devil’s activity, had a divine purpose; in order `(Greek hina) that you may be tested. Trials are an inevitable part of Christian experience; they ‘go with the territory’. As Peter tells us it is not ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’…Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 1Pet 4:12. My old Bible college principal used to say that ‘Satan was God’s chief inspector of boilers’! God is confident in his workmanship in the lives of his saints and is not afraid that they will fail the testings.
The sufferings of the congregation in Smyrna were not a mere possibility; they were scheduled. These are things that they are ‘about to suffer’ are definitely on the way, but their duration is fixed from before their beginning.
You will have tribulation for 10 days.
There is a snippet of a hymn on the edges of my mind but I can’t recall it all. It contains the lines ‘if God hath set their number ten, you ne’er shall have eleven’. This is the promise for all the saints. It will not go on for ever… a lifetime at most. 😉 No trial permitted by God is open ended but carefully circumscribed, thus far and no further. It is said of one the riders in the book of Revelation that
‘power was given unto him to make war with the saints…’ Rev 13:7
‘it was given unto him’ , he did not usurp it and beyond his limits he cannot go.
There is a similar promise which is much better known generally to the saints.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1Cor 13:10
This is the ESV version. The assurance that there is a fixed ‘exit’ from this temptation is the hope that enables the saint to ‘endure’ under the weight of it. That sure ‘exit’ strengthens us as we ‘endure it’.
a fearless future
Perhaps the most amazing part of our original verse is the command
‘not to fear any of those things which you are about to suffer’.
They are coming but you are not to fear them. You are not to fear ‘any of those things’; we are not allowed a single exception. The saints’ trials will result in crowns to cast at his feet for those who obeyed him and refused to fear the future. And why should we not ‘fear the future’? Simply because of the central theme of the book of the Revelation… God is still on the throne.
(originally posted to our old Blog in January 2010)
This is part of the secret of the ministry of Paul to the churches. Certainly he had a ‘royal commission’ but he had something else too; the love of God had been poured out in his heart by the Holy Spirit. Rom 5:8.
The heading is taken from Paul’s letter to ‘the saints’, the people of God, in Philippi.
…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. Phil 1:6–7 NKJV.
There is a line from an old Graham Kendrick song that comes to mind.
“where are the love tears that earned the right to speak?”
This is not the first time I have quoted these words on these blogs.
the common bond of genuine love
There is an interesting feature in the original of Philippians 1:6,7. Apparently, just as accurately, it could be translated ‘because you have me in your heart.’ This mutual affection is the uniting bond that linked these early saints together. Paul spoke to the saints at Philippi with a deep conviction that was authenticated by the fact that he had them ‘in his heart.’ It was a New Testament pattern;
But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. 2 Cor 8:16 NKJV.
He was not driven by duty or necessity but it was the ‘love of Christ’ that constrained him.
the right to speak?
Do we long to speak words of authentic comfort to the saints? We shall, if we have them in our hearts. We have no right to speak into the lives of those who we do not ‘have in our hearts’. At best such preaching will have reform at its heart rather than a love for the individual. It will have targets and milestones and the critical eye of the man who knows how other men ‘ought to behave’. But we usually recognise the man or woman who ‘has us in their hearts’ and to heed their counsel or receive their encouragement is not difficult.
Who has God put in our hearts? We have God’s authority to speak to them. It is said of our great Shepherd;
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 NKJV.
His commandments are not burdensome. Or as one version has it “his commandments do not weigh us down.”
It’s because he has us in his heart.
(first posted on our old Blog in March 2013)
G Campbell Morgan
This is a passage in G Campbell Morgan’s commentary on “the Gospel according to Mark”. He covers the attitude of the people at Nazareth to Christ’s return visit. The locals knew Jesus of Nazareth so well, they knew his family, his personal history as the local carpenter and they were astonished at the power they had heard of and at the wisdom of the ‘local boy’. In fact the passage records two different kinds of astonishment.
Mark 6:2 And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!
Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. Mark 6:5–6 NKJV.
The people at Nazareth were astonished and so was Christ.
Campbell Morgan uses a surprising phrase to describe the second instance. He calls it the ‘paralysis of omnipotence’. It is a shocking phrase and something of an oxymoron. How can anything hinder omnipotence?
And yet clearly it did.
the frustrations of Christ
It is a sobering passage of Scripture. Christ comes, apparently with the desire in his heart to accomplish the will of the Father and his intentions are frustrated. I am choosing my words carefully here. I am not saying he ‘felt’ frustrated but that his intentions were frustrated. He knew the will of His Father. He was anointed with ‘power and the Holy Spirit’. He came to ‘do’ that will and yet He was ‘not able’ do what he wanted to do. As the passage declares, he was ‘not able to do a work of power there’, other than to lay his hands on a few sick folk and heal them.
And the thing which caused the paralysis of omnipotence was ‘unbelief’. Is ‘unbelief’ more powerful than omnipotence? We are touching this amazing mystery again that God, although omnipotent, will not use his omnipotence to force human beings to do things which they do not desire. It seems that in that crowd there were some who did respond to him and to those ‘who received him he gave the right to become…’. Perhaps it is the same in almost every gathering of people. There will be those who shut out the word of Christ and shrink away from his outstretched hand. He can do no work of power for such. But there are those who receive his word and long for his touch.
the power of unbelief
Christ marvelled at the ‘unbelief’ of those who rejected him. Has God given any greater power that the power to say ‘No’ to God? Will he ‘marvel’ at our reluctance to hear what he says to us, or will there be rejoicing in his presence as we voice our ‘Yes, Lord’?
In George Orwell’s devastating critique of totalitarianism, “1984”, one of the party workers has been given the job of culling the dictionary. The strategy is to make ‘thoughtcrime’ impossible by the removal of words that describe things forbidden by the party. Words like ‘freedom’ and ‘rebellion’. If there are no words then there will be no thoughts, or so the theory goes. As he removes the words the party worker says the words at the head of this blog.
“It’s a beautiful things, the destruction of words.”
There is another famous quotation from the same book which declares “but if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”. Together the two quotations describe a brilliant propaganda strategy. Either remove the words altogether or, as an alternative, continue to use the word but redefine them. What does this have to do with us? Much, in every way.
Let’s remove some words, shall we?. Sin? an old fashioned concept surely. Judgment? Not a word we hear much in the normal course of our lives is it? Adultery? Covetousness? Holiness? “it’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words”. Remarkably ‘freeing’. Of course we shall need to redefine the word ‘free’. But that’s not difficult and when we have corrupted the word we have corrupted thoughts and made communication all but impossible. What a strategy. Corrupt the language, corrupt the thinking processes. Break up the whole communication process. What a strategy.
It’s not only in evangelism that we are struggling. Word’s are dropping out of our Bibles too; concepts are vanishing. “the old man” has disappeared from almost all modern versions. New words are being introduced instead with entirely different meanings e.g. “the self”; a Freudian psychology concept. When is a Bible no longer a Bible?
There is a battle waging
There is a battle on, brothers and sisters. Time to wake up and enlist.
In desperation the psalmist asked a question;
If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do? Psa 11:3 NKJV.
A word of assurance came to his heart…
The LORD is in His holy temple,
The LORD’S throne is in heaven; Psa 11:4 NKJV.
(first posted on our old Blog in June 2014)
the wartime slogan
This wartime slogan has gone through thousands of permutations in the last couple of years. You will find the general idea of the slogan on T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, fridge magnets. It would be hard to go out in public in the UK and not see some reference to the idea. There is one place however where you will not find it… heaven. Only people who can’t see the throne need this kind of advice and the presence of the Throne is fundamental to our revelation of heaven. ‘The Throne’ appears 33 times in the book of the Revelation. It is one of the central revelations of the Revelation.
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. Rev 4:2 NKJV.
in the midst of chaos, the Throne
John’s world was falling apart. Jerusalem, the city he had known so well in his youth was destroyed. The temple and the priesthood were gone. All his brother-apostles were gone; he is the last swallow of the summer. The local churches that he knows best are in disarray; leadership is degenerating into control. Then to top it all he is exiled to a island and most likely put under house arrest. But comfort does not come from a poster or fridge-magnet bearing the words “keep calm and don’t panic” but from a revelation of things as they are to the eye opened by the Spirit. He beholds, amidst all the shambles of his earthly experience, a throne set in heaven, and it is occupied;
One sat on the throne.
As long as that throne is occupied by its rightful owner we have no need of worldly epigrams. Campbell Morgan called it ‘the throne that never trembles’.
We don’t need to be in heaven to see the Throne. Christ saw it after a busy day of teaching as he lay asleep with his head on a cushion in the stern of a small boat on the Galilean sea.
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith? Mark 4:37–40 NKJV.
They mistook his faith for complacency and passivity; true faith is neither.
An old hymn captures the truth…
Give to me a vision
Reaching to the throne.
Let me see earth’s problems
In that light alone:
‘Tis Thy Word assures me
All shall work for good,
Things that long have baffled
Soon be understood.
(first posted on 1st April 2013 on our old Blog Site.)