By Rev David de Bruyn
As you head to church on Sundays, do any of the following thoughts cross your mind? A fear that the police or the government of this country might see you? A fear that for going to church you might be imprisoned, injured or killed?
Probably not in your country, but the persecution of Christians is not something that belongs to the past.
Open Doors is a group that supports persecuted Christians and recently it revealed that 2 123 martyr killings had occurred in 2013 compared with 1 201 in 2012 - a very conservative figure based only on what had actually made it into the media and what could be confirmed. As a practicing religion Christianity still faces restrictions and hostility in 111 countries. That might seem far away from you, but it touches your life nonetheless. What is done to true believers, wherever they are, is done to you and to your Lord, because you are part of the body of Christ. Secondly, because no true church of God is ever completely exempt from every form of suffering or prosecution.
Of the 7 churches that Jesus sent short letters to in Revelation, one of them was severely persecuted. If Ephesus was the cooling church, then you could call Smyrna the crowned church. This church is a picture of every church and indeed every Christian that comes under persecution for being a Christian. It describes what we should do and where we should look when it happens.
Smyrna was famous for being the birthplace of Homer. Religiously it hosted many temples to various gods, but it was the first city to build a temple to the goddess Roma and to the spirit of Rome. Along with this patriotism came emperor worship. While Smyrna sounds like a wealthy beautiful place of many opportunities, it had become a terrible, painful place for this church.
They endured problems and difficulties and hard times for the sake of Christ. In this city so devoted to emperor worship, every citizen had to burn incense on Caesar’s altar. If a citizen did so he/she was issued a certificate as proof of loyal citizenship, a proof of belonging to Smyrna and of identifying with it. If you were found without a certificate, you could get the death penalty. Any obedient Christian whose motto was not Caesar is lord, but Jesus is Lord would not have burned incense on that altar and would have certainly invited trouble, problems, difficulties, or worse.
When you experience suffering like this in your life, remember that people who have had a second birth will never face the second death. If you have been born twice, you will die only once. But if you have been born only once, you will die twice. Christ knows every suffering you experienced for His name’s sake. You don’t have to adopt a sieged mentality. You don’t have to try to make this world your home. You have to trust in the first and the last. The One who died has risen. He sees. He knows. He will reward you with crowns and spare you from the second death. You are simply to be faithful to the very end.
According to Open Doors that is what 2 123 of your brothers and sisters did in the last year. They did it because they knew the truth of that old Christian truth which the martyr Jim Elliot summarized when he said: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."