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« on: December 18, 2006, 08:42:21 PM »

                           The Pastor of the No-Fault Church

Situated in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Smyrna was among the most prosperous cities in the Roman province of Asia. Presumably, the city was evangelized through the Apostle Paul's missionary efforts at Ephesus (Acts 19:10). Some forty years later, when Christ critiqued the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 1:11), the Smyrna church was one of the two not faulted by Him.

 The church was situated in an environment of wealth. Smyrna's bay on the Aegean shore, forty miles northeast of Ephesus, provided a natural port of commerce for the trade caravans that passed through the Hermas Valley. An important business center and one of the most beautiful cities in Asia Minor, Smyrna was called "The Lovely Ornament of Asia."

The word Smyrna means myrrh, a bitter tasting, and sweet-smelling gum resin exuded by a genus of thorny shrubs. It has medicinal usages and is distilled into perfumed oils and incense. The Hebrew word denotes “distilling.” In Scriptures myrrh is associated with suffering, death, anointing, and hope. The Song of Solomon uses the word symbolically in describing the hopeful preparations of the Bride Church for the arrival of her Bridegroom. Myrrh also was a major ingredient in the recipe for Israel’s Levitical anointing oil (Ex. 30:23).

In the ancient Greek language, the word, myrrh, connotes perfumed oil. The Magi (commonly referred to as the Wise Men and also the Three Kings) presented myrrh to the child, Jesus. While hanging on the cross, the suffering Savior was offered wine laced with myrrh (Mark 15:23). Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes to embalm the body of Jesus (John 19:39).

Myrrh is a word aptly associated with a suffering church determined to  not promise. Distilled through bitter persecutions and tribulations, the Smyrna church manifested the sweet fragrance of a steadfast loyalty to Christ. It continued "faithful unto death" (Rev. 2:10).

 Beautiful wealthy Smyrna was the center of a fanatical cult of emperor worshipers. During the reigns of Nero and Domitian (A.D. 37-96), the cult severely persecuted the church. Trade guilds, opened only to those who acknowledged the pagan gods, controlled the city’s employment and commerce. Ostracized, Smyrna Christians were among the city's poor; nonetheless, Christ Jesus considered them rich with everlasting treasures (Rev. 2:9).

Polycarp, a pupil of the Apostle John, was the pastor of the Smyrna church at the writing of the Book of Revelation, and personified the uncompromising steadfastness of the church. He encouraged this stance in his congregation. Polycarp once heard that some Christian young men, discouraged at being boycotted by the trade guilds, were considering compromise.

He questioned them. “Why are you doing this?” he asked.
"We must work,” they responded.

“Why must you work?” he further asked.

“We must work in order to eat,” the young men replied.

Polycarp continued his interrogation, “Why must you eat?”

“We must eat to live," they responded.

"Why must you live?" Polycarp asked.

“We must work, so that we may eat and feed our families.”

"There is only one thing we all must do. We all must remain true to Christ Jesus," Polycarp declared.

Polycarp suffered martyrdom at Smyrna. The pagans called Christians “atheists” for refusing to acknowledge the pagan idols as gods. In the amphitheater, the Roman proconsul pressed Polycarp to save himself by chanting with the mob, "Away with the atheists."

Pointing at the pagan mob, Polycarp shouted, "Away with the atheists!"

"Polycarp, have pity on your great age," the proconsul urged him, "Revile your Christ and I will release you."

Polycarp answered, "Eighty and six years have I served Him and He has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme Him, my King, who has saved me? I am a Christian!"

The enraged mob howled for his burning. And, as Polycarp, the pastor of the no-fault church at Smyrna, loudly praised God, the flames released his spirit to be with Christ Jesus.

"Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev. 2:10).

                              © Josprel (Joseph Perrello)

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