Christ the King Sunday November 26, 2023
604, 605, 609, 606
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: O Jesus, our King of Kings, we pray that You would rule our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit and always keep us mindful of the end of all things and Your Day of Judgment so that we may be stirred up to godly living here and dwell with You forever in heaven. We pray this in Your name, Lord Jesus, for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ’ These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ‘”
How would you like to be a member of this church from our text? Look at the suffering they went through! “Tribulation and poverty,” “blasphemy,” (v. 9) or slander, from unbelievers, and on top of that Jesus warns this congregation that there are more things which they “are about to suffer” (v. 10) including imprisonment (v. 10), and from what we read in history, even death by execution for some! I know what you must be thinking, “Hey, where can I sign up to be a member of that congregation?!” Probably not, huh?
In actuality, however, being a like a member of the congregation in Smyrna is something we all should aspire to as Christians. Why? Because we feel we need a little more “poverty” in our lives? Because we really like to be slandered, persecuted, and put through all kinds of “tribulations”? Maybe we like being under the constant threat of imprisonment or death? Of course not! The congregation in Smyrna is a good example to aspire to because of their incredible faithfulness despite all the things they had to endure.
In this section of Revelation, Jesus directed John to write seven letters to the “angels,” or “messengers,” of seven different churches (most likely this refers to the pastors, or elders of these churches). The letter to Smyrna is the second letter in this group, and it is one of only two churches that received only approval and encouragement from the Lord and no criticism (cf. Revelation 1:12-3:22). So, yes, it’s safe to say it would be a good thing to be like the members of the congregation in Smyrna. On this the last Sunday of the church year, a day on which we celebrate Christ as King over heaven and earth, He encourages us this morning with the same words of encouragement He gave to the faithful members of the congregation in Smyrna: Be Faithful Until Death!
None of us knows for sure what types of struggles and tests of faith we will face in our lives. It may not be the same kind of persecution, or threats of imprisonment that the Christians in Smyrna faced. We may never be tortured or threatened with death because of our Christian faith, as many thousands of Christians are throughout the world.
But aren’t the more “subtle” tests of our faith that are common to us in our congregation also at times very difficult to overcome? Maybe we aren’t threatened with physical violence or imprisonment, but we certainly do experience the “psychological” and “emotional” pressure from society, or even from other confessing Christians to “tone down” our message and not follow the Bible so “strictly.” When the Bible confronts us with our sin and we preach that message publicly, that’s not what the world wants to hear! When the Bible tells us that Jesus is the only Savior from sin and we preach that message publicly, that’s not what the world wants to hear either! When the Bible tells us to “watch out for” and “keep away” (Romans 16:17 EHV) from false teachers and we put the Bible’s words into practice by not joining in fellowship with other churches or groups that hold to teachings that are contrary to the teachings of the Bible, that’s not what other confessing Christians want to hear! We’ve probably all experienced “tribulations” and difficulties in our lives because of all these things—perhaps even from people who are close to us: friends, relatives, co-workers, and classmates. And if we haven’t yet, we can be quite certain that we will.
How about the even more mundane “tribulations”? How do we respond to the everyday trials and difficulties of life? When the money to pay the bills gets short; when our “to do” list gets long; when we get sick or hurt; or whenever life seems to just be piling up on top of us, do we cling to the Lord in faithfulness? While we may never be imprisoned or threatened at gunpoint because of our faith in Christ, you can bet that Satan, who, as our text reminds us, was behind the tribulations and trials that the church in Smyrna faced (v. 10), is going to use everything he can in this life to try and get us to give up on Jesus.
Many of us who have gathered here this morning have made a promise on our confirmation day to “Be Faithful Until Death” (maybe for some of you this verse, Revelation 2:10 was even your confirmation passage). Faced with so many challenges, trials, and tests of our faith, how can we make such a promise to be faithful even to the point of death itself?
Well, how did the church of Smyrna remain faithful? By putting their trust in the One who declared to them that He is the “First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.” (v. 8) Jesus was their strength and they trusted in His promises! They trusted Him when He said that their tribulation would not last forever (our text says “ten days;” a figurative way of saying a fixed, temporary amount of time). And they trusted Him when He promised that in the end they would receive “the crown of life.” (v. 10)
History tells us that their pastor, a man named Polycarp, who was the Bishop of Smyrna for many years—and may very well have been the “angel [or messenger] of the church in Smyrna” to whom this letter was written—was martyred for his faith in Christ in 168 A.D. When he was brought one last time before the Roman proconsul and given one last chance to deny Jesus Christ he replied: “Eighty-six years I have served the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has never once wronged me. How can I now deny my King who has saved me?…You threaten me with a fire which will burn for an hour and then go out. Do what you will, my purpose is unchanged.” And with that, he was set on the platform, and the fires were lit.
How could he stay faithful even to the point of death? Because he trusted in the One who has been crowned the Lord of heaven and earth to deliver on His promise to give him a crown of his own: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (v. 10) His faith rested in Jesus’ promise that even though he might die physically by fire, “the second death” (v. 11)—eternal death in hell’s fires could not touch him. Jesus promises, “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (v. 11)
These promises have been given to you and me, and to all who believe in Jesus. Jesus, “the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life” (v. 8) endured the crown of thorns and the cross to earn you the reward He freely gives you by His grace: “The crown of life” (v. 10) in heaven. This is not a crown like the Olympic champions of John’s day would win; a crown of branches and leaves that would soon wither and die. No, this is the crown of life eternal. We will win it because Jesus won it for us and will make us faithful to endure all things. He Himself is the one who lifts us out of the flames of the “tribulations” and conflicts of this life to a life of glory and blessedness.
Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, when the battle is fierce; when this life leaves you empty, remember what Jesus said to the church of Smyrna: You are “rich” (v. 9) in Him. Remember His words of comfort and encouragement: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.” (v. 10) Most of all, remember His promise: Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (v. 10). On this day, let us all pledge ourselves once again to our King of Kings who is coming again, and entrust ourselves to the One who is crowned and will crown us for all eternity! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV ®) © 2019 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved. Used by permission.