“The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life” (Rev 2:8)
If we are honest, we don’t really understand what this means. Why do I say that? Well it is not to do with our cognitive abilities, because it is quite straight forward in that regard. No, the issue is our context, our horizons. Most of us reading this will be from a predominantly western background and in reality don’t have much experience of suffering for the gospel, if any.
Here is a church however, in Smyrna, that was about to experience intense suffering for the cause of the growing kingdom of God. And with that in view it is important to notice what Jesus says to his people in preparation. He reminds them of the realities of the resurrection. No matter what comes, their saviour has gone this road and is victorious, no longer dead, reigning from the throne of heaven. He knows his people and he knows their circumstances.
The fullness of the gospel announces that the king is alive and is no longer dead in a Palestinian tomb. Yet, how often do we hear this communicated among the people of God? It is vital that we understand the cross, but do we miss the fullness of the message? It seems to me that one of the main reasons for this happening is that in the western church we do not have an adequate comprehension of suffering for kingdom growth.
Brothers and sisters from across the world have so much to teach us and it was as true then as it is today. Jesus says to all of the recipients of the letter, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches”. There is a plurality which needs to exist in our ministry of the gospel across cultures. What do we learn from believers in Indonesia as they withstand attacks during Sunday worship? What do we learn from Jesus followers from Muslim backgrounds about counting the cost?
As we pray, this month here are three things to take with us. First of all, pray for all who are involved in proclaiming the good news of Jesus to announce the resurrection. Ask God to bring clarity in this universe altering reality to all who hear it. Secondly, pray that those involved in cross-cultural ministry would be willing to learn from brothers and sisters in the local church. We need to be a learning people so that what we are doing is not displeasing to the Father or a stumbling block to those who do not yet know him.
Finally, pray for believers in East Asia who have the tangible experience of what it means for the kingdom to come bearing marks in both their body and spirit. Give thanks to God for them, and ask that he would grant them boldness with integrity and a knowledge of his everlasting love for them.