6. Rejected

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

The people of God are distinct from this world, and because of Jesus, we will be insulted, rejected, and lied about. Some may even be put to death. Today around the world millions of Christians are being persecuted for their faith–even being killed for believing in Jesus.

Did you know that the original 12 apostles who heard Jesus say this actual verse to them would eventually all be persecuted?

  • Peter was crucified upside down because when they went to crucify him he said he wasnʼt worthy to die like his Lord.
  • James was sawn in half–long ways.
  • Andrew went to Russia, Turkey, and Greece, and was crucified on an X- shaped cross because he too didnʼt want to die like Jesus.
  • Philip went to North Africa and was eventually crucified.
  • Bartholomew went to Armenia in eastern Europe and was eventually flayed and beheaded.
  • Thomas went to India and was killed by four soldiers spearing him to death.
  • Matthew the tax collector went to Ethiopia and was impaled to the ground and then beheaded.
  • The other James was either thrown off the temple and beaten to death, or surrounded by a mob who clubbed and stabbed him to death.
  • John, the apostle of love, was boiled in hot oil but didnʼt die, so he was banished to a rocky island as an exile. But eventually he was the only apostle to die from old age and not martyrdom.

Every year, 160,000 Christians are martyred for their faith. This year 160,000 will go to be with Jesus because of persecution.

These stories sound gory and awful–but Jesus calls those who are persecuted blessed. In the Beatitudes: blessed is repeated 9x and it means “Oh how happy”: the secret to happiness–to the blessed life–is not having a Popeyes chicken sandwich (even though those things are amazing!).

The secret to happiness is not having more money, more notoriety, or more comfort.

No, Jesus is saying that the recipe for a happy Christian life isnʼt about having anything, or doing something, but BEING something.

Revelation 2.8-11 – To the church in Smyrna

8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

 

Smyrna was a big, beautiful, proud city at the time of writing, commercially rich and vibrant.

“Smyrna was a leading city in the Roman cult of Emperor worship”,

writes David Guzik.

The Christians here lost jobs, money, possessions, and sometimes life for simply being Christian; for professing the faith that we also profess to have. At times like that, when we are suffering simply for being a Christian, its easy to feel like we have been forgotten by God, that there is no rhyme or reason to it all.

But, just as the suffering of Christ on the cross achieved so much, so can our earthly suffering produce fruit too. We may never see it, but we need to, we have to, we must believe in the good and perfect will of Almighty God.

Its easy to feel forgotten, but, Jesus says, “I know your tribulation…”, He knows our problems, He knows our poverty, He knows the slander of those who claim to be living a Christian life which tarnishes the rest of us with the same brush…He knows.

Churches in the day and age when Revelation was written had a plurality of male elders, and then one pastor; one installed to lead the leaders and to teach. In the church in Smyrna, it was a man named Polycarp (a personal hero of the faith of mine).

He refused to burn incense and renounce the ‘atheist’ Christians, and in a culture where emperor worship was the ‘norm’, Polycarp stood up for what he believed.

Rome thought that by denying the pantheon of Roman gods you were atheist…how wrong they were…

So Polycarp refused to worship Caesar as a god, and, long story short, was martyred for his faith. The governor of the time asked Polycarp to deny Christ and promised that if he did, his life will be spared. But the faithful saint answered the now famous line,

“Fourscore and six years have I served him, and he has never done me injury; how then can I now blaspheme my King and saviour?”

So, when we are persecuted, pushed, prodded, poked, or just made to feel bad for being a Christian, when we feel like God has forgotten us, we can remember the words of Polycarp, ‘…he has never done me injury…’.

God has not forgotten you, God will never forget you, and, as Jesus says here,

Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.