Sermon on Revelation 2:8-11
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Don’t Be Afraid!
1. Jesus lives
2. Jesus knows
3. Jesus gives
Text: Revelation 2:8-11
What are you afraid of? It might be tough to live in Florida with it, but maybe you have arachnophobia—the fear of spiders. Thursday I conquered ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes, as I disposed of a pygmy rattler in the far corner of our parking lot. Many people say they have altophobia, the fear of heights. Others have claustrophobia, the fear of tight and closed spaces. Experts say the second most common fear among people is glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. I’ll assume that none of the kids here today have didaskaleinophobia, the fear of school. I’ll also assume that since you are here right now you don’t have ecclesiophobia, the fear of church. And I’m really hoping right now that you don’t have homilophobia, the fear of sermons.
There are plenty of things to be afraid of in this world. The fears I just mentioned are a little silly. But there are real fears that we may have that are anything but silly. Some might have thanatophobia, the fear of death. Maybe you have peniaphobia, the fear of poverty and losing all of your possessions and not providing for your family. Perhaps enosiophobia plagues you—the fear of committing an unforgiveable sin. That fear might also lead to hadephobia, the fear of hell.
The Christians living in the city of Smyrna had plenty to be afraid of. They would understand completely what we are going through today. The economy wasn’t treating them very well at all. They were struggling to make it. They were worried about paying all the bills. They battled poverty. At the same time, they had many afflictions and sufferings to cope with. There must have been many times when the Smyrna Christians thought, “Is it really worth it to be a Christian? Does God really care about me? Why are all of these bad things happening?”
In addition, they faced plenty of persecution. Locally, the Jews were constantly opposing them. They slandered them. They stirred up trouble for them. They loved to see them suffer. That’s why they are called “a synagogue of Satan.” If they were real Jews, they would have recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah like the Christians did. But they didn’t. Their hardened hearts led them to persecute the Christians in Smyrna.
That wasn’t the only opposition they were facing. Much more threatening was the persecution of the Roman Empire. As the apostle John was told to write this letter to the Smyrna Christians, it was about 95 AD. John himself had been exiled to the island of Patmos by the Roman emperor Domitian. Many, many Christians had been slaughtered at the hands of the Romans, including all or most of the disciples, except for John.
The Romans weren’t just a threat though. John here prophesied that the threat would become reality. In verse 10 he writes, “I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.” Soon enough, the Romans working as agents of Satan would imprison some of these Christians. Not for literally only 10 days, but 10 days is a picture that means a set amount of time that God only knows.
I’d say the Smyrna Christians had plenty to be afraid of—poverty, hardship, suffering, persecution. I’d also say that we can understand. We worry about money. We worry about providing for our families. We are afraid of “not making it.” We face opposition. We have people who slander us and stir up trouble for us. We are constantly being tempted by the devil. We are afraid of the sins we might fall into. We are afraid of the direction that our world is going in. We are afraid that someday soon it might be a free-for-all on the lives of Christians again.
So what could be said to these Smyrna Christians to calm their fears? What can be said to us fearful Christians today? How about the words of verse 8: “To the angel (or pastor) of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”
First know you whom you are listening to. “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last.” The one who speaks to you has no beginning and has no end. He was before all things, he will be after all things. Sometimes he is described as being the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. These letters are all over our sanctuary—on the banner, on the altar, on my stole. The one who speaks to you is the First and the Last. In other words, he’s God! And what a gracious and loving God we have! He is a God “who died and came to life again.”
How unlike God we are! We face death too. Each and every one of us knows that some day we will die. That is a natural consequence to our imperfection. God has no beginning and no end, but we definitely had a beginning and we definitely will have an end. That’s the price to pay for being sinful creatures. Our doubts, our worries, our questions, our fears; our greed our lust our lies; our selfishness our egos our arrogance—all of our sins separate us from God. The consequence for sin and separation from God is death.
But see how different Jesus is! Jesus died too, but not because he sinned. Not because he had to. Jesus died because he wanted to. Jesus died because he was taking our place. Jesus died because he loves us. But again, see how different Jesus is! He didn’t stay in the tomb. He didn’t rot and decay like we will. Jesus came to life again. Jesus lives. He conquered death. He destroyed death and hell. He squashed Satan. All of this, he did for us!
So dear Christians, Don’t Be Afraid! Jesus lives! Our eternal God who has no beginning and no end, who is the First and the Last, died to pay for your sins and rose to life to guarantee you will rise to everlasting life. Don’t be afraid of things of this world—of poverty, trouble, hardship, suffering, persecution, or even physical death. Don’t be afraid because the eternal Alpha and Omega has opened the doors of eternity to you. The perfection of heaven awaits. So Don’t be Afraid because Jesus lives!
“Oh, but you have no idea what I’m going through,” you say. “You don’t know how hard it is. You don’t know how tight money is. You don’t know how much pain I’m in. You don’t know what it’s like to struggle every day. You don’t know how much guilt I have. You don’t know what it’s like to cry every single day. You don’t know what it’s like to wonder if things will ever get better.”
But there is someone who knows. The First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega spans all time. He sees all things. Jesus knows all things. Listen to what Jesus said to the Smyrna Christians in verse 9: “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not.”
Those Christians living in Smyrna weren’t abandoned. God hadn’t left them to fend for themselves. They weren’t all alone. Jesus knew everything that they were going through. Jesus cared about everything they were going through.
Jesus cares for us too. When we are in the trenches of every day life struggling just to make it to the next day, we get lost in our struggles and troubles. It may seem or feel like we are all alone. But we forget just how great of a God we have. We forget how Jesus described God’s great power and knowledge, that he even knows how many hairs are on our head. We forget that Jesus promised, “Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age,” or that God has said, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”
God never fails to keep any of his promises. We sin. We fail. But God never has and never will fail to keep his promises. He will not leave us. He will not abandon us. He will always work all things for our good. We have plenty of problems plaguing our lives. But Don’t be Afraid! Jesus knows!
The future must have been a scary thing for the Smyrna Christians. Any day they could wake up and they might find that they had no money to provide for their families. Any day they could wake up to Roman soldiers busting down their doors and hauling them off to prison. Or worse, any day they could wake up to find that they would be the next to be crucified like the apostle Peter, or beheaded like John the Baptist, the apostle James, and the apostle Paul. The future meant fear for them.
We can understand that too. We’ve found that any day we could wake up and our house could be worth half of what it was the day before or the stock market could be half of what it used to be. Any day we might wake up and find that another friend or family member is sick. Any day they could pass another law banning prayer or religion or Christianity from another part of society. It seems like the walls are closing in—troubles are rising, problems are getting bigger, persecution is becoming more serious. The future is filled with fears!
Not so with our Savior Jesus! Not so with he, “who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” We could be scared if Jesus didn’t come to this world. We could be scared if he left us to rot in our sin and face the consequences of death and hell. We could be scared if we had to battle Satan on our own. That would indeed be terrifying!
But this is “the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” He took away all that sin. He washed away all our wrongs. Through that bloodstained cross and empty tomb, Jesus has freely won for us all forgiveness and eternal life in heaven. That’s why Jesus says in verse nine, “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” Like the Smyrna Christians, we may have our share of economy problems. But our spiritual economy couldn’t be better! Jesus gives us life and salvation! We couldn’t be more rich!
Therefore Jesus says in verse 10, “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer . . . Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The word for crown used here is the kind of crown that the Greeks would get at their Olympic games. It was the champion’s crown, the victor’s spoils. This is what is waiting for us. As Jesus rose triumphant from the grave as the champion over sin and death, he now promises to give to each of us victor’s spoils. Because Jesus won, we win. Because Jesus lives, we will live. Thus, as we remain in the faith, even to the point of death (however soon that might be), Jesus promises, “I will give you the crown of life.” So Don’t be Afraid! Jesus gives!
There are plenty of phobias in this world—fears of creepy, crawly things, fear of heights, fear of water. There are also plenty of other real fears about real scary things like troubles, hardships, problems, persecutions, sin, death, and Satan. But listen to the words of “the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” The crown of life awaits. The joys of heaven are yours. Live your life free of fears! What is there to be afraid of? You have Jesus!
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