Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Revelation Chapter 12 - Part 3


Revelation 12

 Part 3


“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death” (Revelation 12:11).


In the First Century Christianity was often a persecuted religion.  In many ways, this was a blessing.  To a large degree, persecution culled out superficial Christians and those who were not willing to make sacrifices for Christ.  It also produced a considerable number of fervent Christians who loved God with their whole heart, soul, and mind—Christians who scorned both the fierce persecutions brought by Satan and the alluring pleasures of this world.   Paul had the same attitude when he said, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24); “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?  For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).  


Did not love their life even to death


Notice that the text does not say that the Christians loved martyrdom.  It says they loved “not their lives”.  This is not a discussion of how they viewed death, but rather how they viewed their lives.  If their life is committed to God, then the issue of death is already taken care of.  If I am right with God, then there is nothing to fear concerning death (Luke 12:4-5; Matthew 16:25). Consider the truth that great commitment brings great confidence.  At times Christians lack confidence in their salvation, in the future, or concerning death, and often such a lack of confidence is due to a half-hearted commitment. 


Painless Growth?


Harkrider adds, “They gave up everything to serve Christ, but they gained far more than they lost.  The worldly-minded will compromise in the name of common sense in an attempt to avoid what they call fanaticism.  Why would anybody choose persecution over the pleasures of this world?  Only those who would understand the words of Jesus:  ‘He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal’ (John 12:25)” (pp. 141-142).  The early Christians realized that tremendous growth could come from suffering and persecution (1 Peter 1:6-7; James 1:2-4).  The early Christians also encountered trials and persecutions with an attitude of confidence and joy (Hebrews 10:32-35; Acts 5:41 “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name”). 


Understanding Self-Sacrifice


Someone might say, “How is such an attitude possible?”  Allow me to offer the following suggestions:


·        The early Christians realized that their life only had meaning because Jesus had sacrificed Himself for them.  Without the sacrifice of Jesus, we are all lost and in a hopeless condition.  Therefore, we owe lives, the present existence of this world, the hope we have, the time we have to marry and have children, to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Without such sacrifice, there is no “life”.  Therefore, we should be willing to gladly sacrifice ourselves for the gospel in order that others might hear the gospel  (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:15).


·        In a sense, every Christian is living longer than they should have.  Our sins deserved judgment (Romans 5:9; Ephesians 2:1-3), but the sacrifice of Jesus gave us new life.  If persecution cuts that life sort that is not a tragedy, because Christianity gave us more time and blessings than we deserved anyway.


·        Persecution tests our faith, it enables us to see if we are genuinely committed to God or not, and it is far better to find out the answer to that question now rather than at the judgment.  


·        Persecution is a compliment from God, for it is evidence that God has confidence in our abilities and our faith (Acts 5:41 “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy”). 


“A man dies and wakes up a moment later at the end of a long line.  At the front of the line he sees two doors, one marked heaven and the other marked hell.  And there’s an usher, and the usher says, ‘Move alone, keep the line moving.  Choose either door, heaven or hell, and walk in’.  The man says to the usher, ‘What happened to the Last Judgment? Where are my deeds weighed and measured?  Where am I told if I am a good person or a bad person?  The usher says, ‘You know, I don’t know where that story ever got started.  We don’t do that here.  We’ve never done it.  We don’t have the staff to do that here.  I mean, look, ten thousand people arrive every minute.  I’m supposed to sit down with every one and go over his whole life?  We’d never get anywhere.  Now, choose either door.  In the sketch the man walks through the door marked hell”.  The lesson from this sketch could be that there is a fundamental human need to taken seriously as a moral agent.  We need to believe that the universe cares if we are good or bad, if we are truthful or deceitful, if we are faithful or unfaithful.  The early Christians really cared that God took their lives and actions seriously, they rejoiced when God allowed suffering to happen, because it meant that God took their faith seriously. 


·        The early Christians also considered the task of spreading the gospel and influencing this world for good as being a far more important purpose than living a peaceful and long life (Acts 20:24; “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).


I really believe that there is something tremendously liberating about realizing that spreading the kingdom is far more important than my own comfort and longevity, for lets say that I live to a ripe old age and that I prosper—what have I really accomplished? Millions of people have done exactly the same thing, even unbelievers accomplish that much.  Without doing something bigger than our own comfort and ourselves and without doing something that will actually last for eternity, we are setting ourselves up for disillusionment (Ecclesiastes 2:11,15-20). 


·        Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24). 


Jesus died so people could become Christians, but effort needs to be put forth to spread that message, to extend the borders of the kingdom, to keep the church for which Jesus died strong in the faith.  “Therefore, anyone who serves the Church by widening her borders and saving her from errors, is doing the work of Christ” (Barclay p. 126).   Jesus said that if we seek to walk in His steps, that is, take up His cause, then we will encounter suffering (Matthew 10:25; John 15:18-21; Philippians 3:10; 2 Timothy 3:12).   “They  were incurred in making known the redeeming work of Christ, they were endured for the sake of Christ.  They were like those of Christ, endured for the benefit of others.  They thus united Paul with Christ”(Erdman p. 63).   The early Christians viewed suffering as uniting them with the work of Christ, and what nobler work is there?  Suffering was also doing their part, and using our bodies as instruments of righteousness.  Paul viewed himself as expendable, and his body (physical comfort) as something that could be laid on the line for the benefit of God’s people, both present and future generations of God’s people. 


Modern Trends


In the book entitled The Worldly Church, the authors note, “Religion today is no longer a passion; it is a pastime.  Within a single life-time, religion has been reduced to a leisure-time commitment and no longer elicits a conviction of anything sinful” (p. xi).  They note the following changes:  1.  The assembly, no longer a place of worship, but a holy gymnasium and family-counseling center. 2.  The turn from Scripture to “need gratification”.  3.  Instead of saving souls, the modern church tries to compete in secular gratification with a world that is a master of the art.  4.  Elders, no longer spiritual leaders, but board members, directors, and corporate managers.  5.  Preachers, no longer heralds of the gospel, but a professional staff manager.  “He often is an actor, concerned more with his role, his manners, and his polished delivery, than with the possibility of his lips being touched with a live coal from the altar” (p. xii).  They note, “There once was a time when Churches of Christ were widely known as a people of the Book.  All who knew us knew that we hungered above all for the word of God.  They knew that we immersed ourselves in its truths and sacrificed dearly to share the gospel with those who had never heard.  There were our most fundamental commitments.  But who are we today?” (pp. 1-2).  “Seventy-five years ago, members of Churches of Christ typically came from what the world called ‘the wrong side of the tracks’.  Often uneducated, poor, and dispossessed, we had little influence or power either as individuals or as congregations.  In those days it was easier to trust in God for we knew our limitations all too well” (p. 7). In contrast, today members are far more educated and often affluent.  We are skilled in the arts of management, manipulation and technique.  There is nothing wrong with education or affluence, yet there is always the danger that we begin to trust in ourselves, and in our own wisdom and reach the point that we consider the passages on suffering for Christ as not applying to us, that is, we are so smart that we can live the Christian life and not offend anyone in the process.  Or, that we have come up with a better way to preach the gospel that is not as offensive as it was in the First Century. 


·        We must resist the temptation to make the gospel “acceptable”, or tone down the demands that Jesus issued.   “Secular Christians, like spoiled children, may become more, not less, self-centered and insistent, demanding increasing degrees of attention and accommodation.  God becomes an instrument in the service of human beings, rather than human beings instruments in the service of God” (pp. 17-18). 

·        Our secular society argues that human beings are not alienated from God, but only flawed in minor ways.  What they need, therefore, is not salvation from sin, but rather counseling and therapy.  “American churches seemed more concerned to save marriages than souls, more interested in self-esteem than salvation, and more concerned to relieve depression and anxiety than to deal with the fundamental reality of sin” (pp. 30-31). 

There is nothing wrong with saving marriages, building self-esteem, or helping people deal with anxiety and depression, but the point being made is, “In Scripture the Christian’s most valued victories are over worldly aspirations (1 John 2:15-17).  But in much contemporary preaching, the most valued victories are over worldly frustrations” (p. 64).  That is, we need to make such that we do not embrace the idea that the purpose of the gospel is to remove all the sufferings and inconveniences of our earthly lives and to fix everything here.  The early Christians were prepared to remain faithful even if this life was filled with suffering (Romans 8:18, 35-39; 2 Corinthians 4:8-11; 11:23-33). 


Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017