Steadfast Love

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 

Revelation 1:9

John was on the island of Patmos, exiled for his faith in Jesus. He was an old man. He witnessed most of the other early disciples be executed for their faith. Surely he saw many abandon their faith under the pressure of persecution. But not John. As he wrote to other believers about the vision that he saw, he called himself a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.

What does it take to have that kind of patient endurance? What does it take to stick to your commitments? Surely there is a bit of struggle along the way whether one is committing to their spouse, their church, or to Jesus. Surely John had opportunities to give up, yet he remained true to the end.

As I get older, I am less and less impressed with the flash of starting something new. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve started new things a few different times and starting new things is hard work. But I am just more and more impressed with perseverance these days. Eugene Peterson called it “a long obedience in the same direction.” This is what it takes to finish a marathon and finish well in life. It’s the ability to stay with something through thick and thin. There is a richness there that can’t be acquired in any other way.

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary. My wife and I are going to celebrate as 15 years married is no small thing! My parents and my in-laws have been married for nearly 50 years. As I get older I am more and more impressed with that kind of commitment. The commitment it takes to stick through hard things and not quit, not bail out. It seems more and more rare in our culture these days.

John’s reward for his patient endurance, his faithfulness to the end, was that the glorified presence of Jesus stood in his midst and spoke to him directly. John said:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feetand with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

Revelation 1:12-16

This was such a gift. The glorified presence of Jesus standing right next to John. This was just the beginning of his reward for his steadfast faithfulness and patient endurance. Jesus himself was the one who said:

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:9-14

The one who stands firm to the end is the one who didn’t let their love grow cold. This applies to marriage. This applies to being an active part of the church. This applies most of all to our relationship with Jesus. Keeping the fire of our love burning bright, tending the fire, keeping fuel on the fire, these are key to longstanding commitments. It is love that is our most powerful weapon, and it will be love that keeps us faithful to the end.

Making a Mockery

“He is worthy of death,” they answered.

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”

Matthew 26:66-68

When Jesus was arrested and on trial, they made all kinds of false accusations about Him. But noticed how they mock Him. In each case of mocking, the irony is the element of truth that they don’t understand and can’t see. Here they mocked Jesus as a prophet with the ability to prophesy, yet Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. Jesus had already talked to the Father about it in the Garden of Gethsemane. But the mocking would continue.

They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Matthew 27:28-31

At His trial, the Jewish leaders mocked Him as a prophet. Here soldiers mock Jesus as a king. They dress Him in mock royal garb as they abused Him and beat Him. Again, the irony is the truth that they can’t see. This was the King of Kings that they were mocking. And the mocking would continue.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 

Matthew 27:39-43

After Jesus is crucified and hanging on the cross, people walking by and the religious leaders mock Him. There are two things that are getting mocked here. The first is the claim that Jesus is the Son of God. The second is about His priestly role and His relationship with the Temple. As the Son of God He went around healing many people, but here He wasn’t willing to heal Himself. He is Savior of the world, but here He wasn’t willing to save Himself.

The mockers didn’t know the irony of what they were saying. By not coming down from the cross Jesus was proving Himself to be the Son of God who lives in perfect obedience to the Father. By not saving Himself, He was saving the world. Jesus did trust His Father and Father God would rescue Him, but not from the cross. Soon Jesus would be totally victorious over death and the grave.

They mocked Him for not destroying the temple, but they didn’t know they were watching the temple be destroyed (His body) right before their eyes. They mocked Him for not rebuilding the temple in three days, but that is exactly what was about to happen in three days when Jesus walked out of the tomb.

All of this exposes the irony of the mockery that Jesus endured. People only mocked because they couldn’t see the truth that was right in front of them. This is often the case with those who mock Christians and Christianity today. Mockery comes from the prideful assumption that a person has the full grasp of the truth. But we see here that those who were mocking were blind to the full truth of what was right in front of them.

Being mocked by those who only see a sliver of truth is and has always been a normal part of a life of following Jesus. If we are stepping out in faith to do what Jesus asks us to do, we will likely be mocked. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. If the world mocked Jesus, they will mock His followers. If we aren’t doing anything for Jesus that opens us up to mocking attacks, we likely are settling for a nominal kind of Christian life. Mocking is one of the languages of the enemy.

The One Who Is Victorious

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Revelation 2:8-11

A couple observations:

First, the lie of universalism becomes more obvious in light of passages like this in scripture. These are the direct words of the ascended Jesus. If all will be saved one day, what is the point of suffering persecution? What is the point of being faithful? What is the point of Jesus saying that “the one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death” unless there are those who will be hurt by the second death?

This passage couldn’t be more clear–there will be some who are saved and others who are not. Jesus is encouraging the church of Smyrna to withstand persecution for their faith and not fall away so that they can inherit the victor’s crown of eternal life.

Secondly, when Christians around the world today undergo persecution and imprisonment for their faith in Jesus, there are many reasons offered up by our culture. Some offer a political reason. They say, “We need political pressure so that religious freedom and human rights will be adopted by that country.” Others offer a social reason. They say, “We just need greater concern for the religious minorities, and all minorities, in countries across the globe.” And while there is truth in both of these approaches, the political and social realities are just symptoms of the deeper reality that is being missed.

Jesus is clear about who and what is causing the persecution of Christians around the world. He tells the church in Smyrna that it is the devil who is testing them and persecuting them. It is the enemy, Satan, who tries to get Christians to turn away from Jesus by causing suffering. Everyone else is just a pawn in this game the devil is playing. Jesus couldn’t be more clear.

How ironic it is that people then blame God for their suffering. Jesus warns us that suffering will come (“In this world you will have trouble…John 16:33). Then Jesus tells us who the author of that trouble is–the devil himself (also see Ephesians 6:12). Finally, Jesus encourages us that if we stand firm in the faith we will be rewarded. And what do we do? We turn around and blame God for our suffering…(smh).

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Not Timid, Not Ashamed

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—

2 Timothy 1:7-9

The New American Standard Bible translates verse 7 this way: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Paul was encouraging Timothy not to be timid regarding the “testimony about our Lord.” Fear can paralyze a person into silence about the truth of the gospel.

Paul was reminding Timothy that the Holy Spirit gives us a boldness about the gospel of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit gives us power to see the impossible become possible–miracles, signs and wonders. The Father also pours His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love changes our heart toward people we would otherwise avoid. And the Holy Spirit is a refining fire within us, giving us self-discipline and moving us into a holy life.

Paul also lets Timothy know that part of following Jesus is suffering for the gospel. Specifically, suffering for the gospel in the New Testament is not about facing illness or the normal hardships of life. Suffering for the gospel is the ridicule and persecution that comes from proclaiming the testimony of Jesus. And part of why we are given the power of God from the Holy Spirit is to fortify our souls during times of insults and false accusations.

Jesus warned of this same thing when He said,

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:11-12

We couldn’t do any of this on our own. On our own, in our own power, we would shrink into fear and self-protection. We’d spend our time trying to hyper-manage our reputation and other people’s perception of us. It’s the Holy Spirit that breaks us out of self-protection and into courage. It’s the Holy Spirit that empowers us to swim upstream against cultural norms that are anti-Christ. It’s the Spirit that gives us the power and love to call people back to their Heavenly Father–the One who longs to welcome us home and shower us with grace (Luke 15:18-24).

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:19-21


Throughout the centuries, there have been different tactics employed by the enemy to pacify the Church. Usually it is some form of trying to get Christians to want to “fit in” to the religious subculture or the current dominant culture. In Paul’s day, there were those who wanted the Gentile believers to fit in by getting circumcised. He writes, “Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ”(Galatians 6:12).

In this case, to “fit in” meant compliance with the Jewish religious subculture. Paul calls them out for what they are doing. They are trying to avoid being persecuted, mocked, insulted and left out. And this same thing has existed in every generation of the Church.

Today there is a similar pressure to “impress people by means of the flesh.” There are many in the American Church who so badly want to fit in with the rest of culture. They try so hard to prove they are “normal” and not some fanatical Christian. They compromise holiness and soften the gospel until it is barely unrecognizable. All of this is an attempt to “avoid being persecuted” even though persecution in America just means mockery, insults and social condemnation (not beatings, imprisonment and death like in other countries around the world).

There is a lie that is all too easy to believe. It is the lie that we can make the gospel more respectable. It is the lie that we can make the Christian life easier to accept. But if the last century of American church history has shown us anything it is that, if this tactic does “win people to Christ,” it too often creates Christians who look like, act like, think like and live like the rest of the world. Instead of being the called out ones we’ve become the blended in ones.

Too scared to pray for people in public, too scared to share the gospel, too scared to stand firm on morality, too scared of what others think about us, too scared to believe in the miraculous power of God, too scared to allow the Holy Spirit to move in a way that might seem “weird,” too scared to take risks, the American church has been thoroughly pacified.

We need a new generation of Christians who aren’t full of fear, who aren’t trying to impress unbelievers with how “normal” they are, who aren’t afraid of being persecuted for the cross of Christ.