But You are Rich!

Bible:

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

“‘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. 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. 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.’” Revelation 1:8-11 ESV

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 ESV

Reflection:

Many years ago, there were pieces of wood owned by many different people and churches that were supposed to be part of the true cross of Jesus. While these pieces of wood most probably weren’t really from Jesus’ cross, the people that had them believed that they were and thought they were very precious. A church in Apamea, near Antioch in Syria, had one of these pieces of wood, and it was so important to them that they encrusted it with valuable jewels. In 540 the Persians sacked and burned the area, but they spared the church in Apamea that had this treasure. The Persians sliced off the precious stones and then gave the wood back to the church. The invaders thought that they had the best of the deal, and saw no value at all in the piece of wood! To them, the church in Apamea had become very poor when they lost their jewels.

The church in our Bible reading, in Smyrna, also seemed to many people to be very poor. They didn’t have wealth or power, and they were having all kinds of trials and persecutions. Others probably looked at this church and thought it was very pathetic, but Jesus had a different opinion. He spoke words of comfort and encouragement to them, saying that even though they seemed poor and powerless, they were really very rich. They might not have had money or precious jewels, but they had Jesus, and everything he had done for them on the cross. That gave them more wealth than anything the world had to offer. Jesus warned the church at Smyrna that they were about to suffer more trouble, and that some of them would be thrown into prison. But he encouraged them to be strong, and that he would give them a crown of life if they were faithful to death. The second death, separation from God forever in hell, would never hurt them.

We also might seem to be poor and powerless to others who look at us, and we might suffer troubles and persecutions because we are Christians. But the promise Jesus gave the church at Smyrna is good for us as well. Jesus came to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven, and he conquered death and all the forces of evil by his death and resurrection. Everyone who believes in Jesus will have life forever with him, and will never have to worry about the second death. We are very, very rich, even if the world thinks we are pathetic and weak, because we are conquerors through Jesus.

Prayer:

Dear Jesus, thank you for making us rich by giving us yourself. Please help us to be conquerors through you. Amen.

Source:

Moffett, Samuel Hugh A History of Christianity in Asia, Volume I: beginnings to 1500 San Francisco: Harper, 1992, p. 220.

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Breaking Down the Idols

Bible:

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. . . . And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city. II Kings 18:1, 3-8 ESV

O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices,
and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
You have given him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.
For you meet him with rich blessings;
you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your salvation;
splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
For you make him most blessed forever;
you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord,
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved. Psalm 21:1-7 ESV

Reflection:

A long time a Christian woman named Helena wanted to find the cross that Jesus had died on, so she traveled to the Holy Land. It had been almost 300 years since Jesus had died, but according to the story, she found three crosses. She didn’t know which one had belonged to Jesus, so she took the three crosses to the body of a dead man. When two of the crosses touched him, nothing happened, but when the third cross did he rose from the dead! Helena then knew she had found the true cross. Pieces of this cross can be found in many different places today, and there are a lot of stories about people being healed of their sicknesses or even of rising from the dead when they come close to a piece of the cross. But these are only stories. We really don’t know if Helena found the true cross, and even if she did, it is Jesus who heals and helps people, and not pieces of wood. A church father named Ambrose said, “Let us adore Christ our King, who hung upon the wood, and not the wood.”

King Hezekiah became the king of Judah after his father Ahaz. Ahaz had been a wicked king, and he had led the people in worshiping false gods and goddesses. But Hezekiah loved and trusted the Lord, and he did everything he could to get rid of the idols that the people had been worshiping. He even took the bronze serpent that Moses had made and broke it into pieces. God had told Moses to make this serpent when the people of Israel were being attacked by fiery serpents. They were dying because of their poisonous bites, but when they looked up at the bronze serpent on the pole, they were healed and didn’t die. But after many years, the people had given this bronze serpent a name, Nehushtan, and were making offerings to it. Something God had used to save his people became something the people ended up worshiping as an idol.

It can be easy to take a good thing that God has used to help us and turn it into a kind of good luck charm. Wearing some jewelry shaped like a cross can be a good way to remember Jesus and to show others we believe in him, for example, but if we think that wearing a cross will protect us from bad things, we have made it into a good luck charm, and even an idol. God gives us things to help us remember him, and he comes to us through the water of baptism and the bread and wine of communion. It’s not wrong to be thankful for these things and to treat them with respect, but we should always remember that it is God who works through them to help us. In Jesus he became a human person that others could see and touch, and Jesus died on the cross to bring us back to our Heavenly Father. We can trust Jesus completely for everything that we need.

Prayer:

Dear Jesus, thank you for coming to be our Savior. Please help us to always trust in you. Amen.

Source:

http://www.thecross-photo.com/The_True_Cross_by_Ron_Loeffler.htm