Monday, August 19, 2013, 7:47 a.m. – the Lord Jesus woke me this morning with the song “The Old Rugged Cross” playing in my mind. Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. I read Revelation 2:8-11 (ESV): The First and The Last These are the words of Jesus Christ, who is the first and the last, i.e. he is God Almighty. He always was and he always will be. He was before all things, he created all things, and he sustains all that he created. He came to earth, took on human flesh, suffered like we suffer, and was tempted like we are tempted, yet without sin. He was betrayed, forsaken, abandoned, denied, mocked, accused falsely (even of being from Satan), beaten, and hung on a cross to die. When he died, our sins were crucified with him. When the Father resurrected him from the dead, our sins remained buried in the grave, for he conquered them through his death and resurrection so we could go free – from slavery to sin, from eternal damnation, and to a walk of faith in Christ’s righteousness and holiness. Your Tribulation This letter was written to a body of believers who were poor in spirit (humble; contrite) and/or poor materially, yet they were rich in faith in Christ Jesus. Christ had nothing to say against them. This letter was written to encourage and strengthen them, for they were suffering for their faith and for their testimony for Jesus Christ and for his gospel of salvation, and things were going to get much worse. Based upon my research, evidently where they lived was a city steeped in idolatry and the worship of the emperor. Christians, apparently, were being persecuted there because they would not give the emperor such homage. Yet this passage of scripture focuses on the Jews who were slandering (insulting; maligning; defaming) the Christians there. Being a Jew back then was a symbol of being a true worshiper of God, for they had been God’s chosen people and the ones to whom the promise of the coming Messiah had first been given, and the ones to whom the gospel was first preached. Yet, as a nation as a whole, they rejected the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and they hung him on a cross to die, so now they are numbered among the Gentiles. Only those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ are God’s true people, because our Lord made one person out of the two (Jew and Gentile) so that there is no longer that division. The division now is saved or unsaved. So, although these Jews claimed to be “Jews,” i.e. they claimed special relationship with God Almighty, thinking they were still God’s chosen people, while rejecting his Son, they were not true “Jews.” In other words, outwardly or by birth they were Jews, but inwardly they were not, for although they may have been circumcised outwardly, they did not have the circumcision of the heart that God required and which he provided through faith in his Son (God the Son), Jesus Christ. In fact, since they were not on God’s side, and they were, in fact, working against God and were trying to destroy his work and his true children, they were indeed a synagogue (a house of worship; a body of followers) of Satan, i.e. they were working for Satan and for his kingdom by their unbelief in Christ and by their opposition to Christ’s true followers and to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. And, this type of opposition to Christ’s followers and to his true gospel of salvation is still prevalent and is increasing in our day and time, and it is coming to America, too. So, this letter today is for all who have humbled themselves before God, who have died with Christ to sin and to self, and who have chosen a walk of obedience to Christ in his righteousness and holiness – “Not I, but Christ living within me.” And, it is for all those who are presently suffering persecution at the hands of those who stand in opposition to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, i.e. those who stand opposed to a gospel which says we must be crucified with Christ so that the “I” in us no longer lives, but Christ now lives and works within us and out through us as we yield control of our lives over to him and we cooperate with his work (See Lu. 9:23-25; Eph. 4:17-24; Gal. 2:20; Ro. 6; 1 Jn.). Do Not Fear We are to be encouraged, because God is in control and he has everything all worked out according to his plans and purposes for our lives and for the salvation of humans throughout the world. He will never leave us or forsake us. He will uphold us, be with us, comfort, encourage, give hope and healing; instruct us, guide and direct us in the way we should go; and give us wisdom and discernment and the courage and the stamina needed to endure. So, we should never fear what lies ahead or what suffering we may yet have to endure. There is nothing we will go through in this life that God didn’t know about it and that he can’t handle it. We just daily need to yield to his purposes and trust him in all things, believing that in all we go through in this life, that he has a purpose, a plan, and he will give us all we need if we will just ask him, and if we will surrender to his will. The Crown of Life Some believers in the world today are literally being thrown into prison, are being severely persecuted and are being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ and for his gospel. I believe this is happening in astounding numbers throughout the globe, but that the news is reporting it as something else. I can’t prove this, obviously, but this is what I believe the Lord Jesus has been showing me via his Spirit within me. And, I believe very much so that this is coming to America soon. Many who preach the true gospel of Jesus Christ are already facing some forms of rejection, persecution, abandonment, and opposition, even from those within the institutional church. I believe this is going to get much worse, and that time is not far off. Yet, we are to be faithful unto death, and we will receive rich rewards in heaven. The Old Rugged Cross / George Bennard On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, The emblem of suff’ring and shame; And I love that old cross where the dearest and best For a world of lost sinners was slain. Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, Has a wondrous attraction for me; For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above To bear it to dark Calvary. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, A wondrous beauty I see, For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, To pardon and sanctify me. To the old rugged cross I will ever be true; Its shame and reproach gladly bear; Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away, Where His glory forever I’ll share. So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, And exchange it some day for a crown.