The time period covered by John’s letter to Smyrna stretched across a devastating epoch of church history. It was the time when the Caesars went to war against the church and it seemed that the Kingdom of Christ would be crushed under the relentless brutality of Rome.
Rome was a law unto itself. A brutal power-hungry machine that was driven by a single unifying goal; dominion. It was this that led the Caesars to demand the worship of their subjects. Patrician or Plebeian you were expected to bow to Caesar, to acknowledge no other god higher than Caesar.
But there was one group of people who refused to bow before the might of the iron throne and so they must be crushed.
The story of the Christian church during the ten persecutions of the Pagan Roman Empire, stretching from Nero to Diocletian is a repetition of the same sad story that has been told and retold through countless ages.
It is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to bow before Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar. It is the story of Mordecai refusing to bow before Haman.
When Christians refused to burn incense to Caesar they were thrown into the arenas. The sand warm beneath their feet, the roar of the rabid mob loud in their ears, and the snarling breath of ravenous beasts hot on their necks.
They died because they were men and women of integrity. Because it seemed fickle and disloyal to renounce their true King and pledge allegiance to a man, with flesh and blood and bones just like them.
They died because their hope was fixed on a better country, one more powerful and opulent and equitable than Rome.
They made hard choices because those choices were worth making, even in the face of great cost. They chose Jesus, even if that meant staring death in the face, because not only was Jesus worthy of their worship, He was worth it as well. Eternally, unequivocally worth it.
Here’s the thing. We’re more than happy to make hard choices when we realize that those choices are worth our while. We’ll work long hours for that extra bit of cash, we’ll put in extra effort to reach that special goal, we’ll invest extra time to make that important relationship work.
We’re willing to put in what is needed and sacrifice what is needed for the things that matter most.
So here’s the question; how much does Jesus matter to you?
What would you trade off or trade-in for him? Is he low on your totem pole of priorities? Or does he sit at the pinnacle?
Why? Or why not?
When Jesus looked at the struggling, suffering, brave Christians of Smyrna he said “I know your works, and tribulation and poverty, (but you are rich)” (Revelation 2:9)
Jesus knew what they were going through. He understood the choices they made. He understood how much they loved Him. He understood that their relationship with Him was the most valuable thing in their lives. For His sake, they had become poor, for His sake they were suffering.
But he gently reminded them of the reality. They were rich. Rich because they had Him and He was (and still is) enough.
Jesus ends his message to them with the words “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer…be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10)
Don’t be afraid. I’ve got you. Hang on. What I have to offer you at the end of all this is worth it. What we have is worth it. Be thou faithful unto death.
Is what you have with Jesus worth it? Do you have something with Jesus that is worth fighting for? Wroth holding on to regardless of the cost?
We all need to ask ourselves these questions. We all need to closely examine the answers. Eternity hinges on the answers we come up with.