This post is by Michael Kelley (M.A., Beeson Divinity School). Michael is the Director of Groups Ministry for LifeWay in Nashville, TN, and author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life.
- To see this whole blog series click here.
- To order The Gospel Project for students or adults click these links.
- To preview a full month of The Gospel Project click here.
Imagine the scene with me. A man in ancient Rome has been summoned to a governmental building in his town. He knows what’s coming as he walks through the gates, for he is a professing Christian, and Christianity is a threat to the empire.
It’s not a threat because the Christians are powerful; nor is it because they are extremely numerous, though their numbers are growing. It is a threat because Christianity runs counter to the fabric of what holds the empire together.
In Rome, being religious was perfectly acceptable. It was celebrated even. It was, however, second in terms of allegiance. When the Romans conquered, the people were able to keep their religious beliefs as long as they didn’t interfere with their allegiance to Rome and the empire. The phrase of the day left little doubt about who had the final word, for the regular confession in the empire was “Caesar is Lord.” And that was the problem.
For this man, Antipas, was a Christian, and his confession was equally simple and yet profoundly different and therefore dangerous. Antipas, like his brothers and sisters in Christ, were in the habit of saying, “Jesus is Lord.” And with that confession ringing in his mind, he walked through the gates.
Once inside, there was the bust of the emperor. There was the proconsul of the province. And there was the simple choice. All he had to do was sprinkle a few grains of incense on the fire and say, “Caesar is Lord” and he could simply go on home. Maybe to a wife. Maybe to his children. It certainly would have been easy to justify such a decision. But as Antipas stepped forward, he heard the contrary words over and over again in his mind: “Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord.” And Antipas made his choice.
It might have gone like that. We don’t exactly know. We don’t know if Antipas had a family. We don’t know what he did for a living. We don’t know if he was a young or an old man. We don’t know anything else except what we find in this one, single statement in the passage for the morning. We know that he stood under persecution and we know that he was martyred for the sake of Christ.
We don’t know much else. But Jesus does.
The first three chapters of the Book of Revelation provide a stirring vision of the Lord Jesus Christ. He walks among His churches, His bride, and He addresses them directly. This book, written originally to encourage these Christians to remain faithful – to endure – not only gives us this picture of Jesus but also of the new creation of which we are a part of and to which we are destined.
Though the contexts of these struggling churches are different, though their struggles are unique, though their situations are particular, there is a common refrain that echoes through Jesus’ communication:
Those two words are incredibly comforting. Jesus knows about the labor and endurance of the church at Ephesus, how they tested the teaching in front of them to make sure it was truly from God. He knows about the financial struggles of the church at Smyrna, how they are about to experience the kind of persecution that might go unnoticed throughout the empire. He knows about the martyr named Antipas at Pergamum though the rest of history has long forgotten his name. He knows about how the works of righteousness of the church of Thyatira have eclipsed those works they did at the beginning of their faith. He knows of the remnant of the passionate faithful at Sardis, how they among their fellowship retain their love for Him. He knows about the limited strength of His people in Philadelphia, how despite their weakness, they have not denied Him.
That is indeed comforting, for Jesus still knows. He knows about your inner battle and your choice to turn off the computer rather than keep clicking. Jesus knows how many diapers you changed yesterday and how you fought to keep your temper under control. Jesus knows how demanding your boss is and the struggle it is to maintain an attitude of respect when you’re being mistreated. Jesus knows your secret worry about the mortgage payment, how you are actively fighting to trust Him during the layoffs at work. Jesus knows. Though no one else does, Jesus knows.
It’s comforting to know that someone notices. Someone understands. Someone sees and someone recognizes. I don’t know about you, but the knowledge of Jesus fills my heart and lifts my soul; it helps me to know that Jesus knows.
Jesus is not isolated from the struggles and trials and tribulations of this first creation; He knows them well because He has suffered through them to a greater extent than any of the rest of us ever will. He is not “a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus knows. And it helps me.
It helps me… and it frightens me.
Because if Jesus knows, then Jesus knows.
He knows about the infiltration of the seemingly insignificant sins into the life of the church at Pergamum. He knows that although everyone thinks the church of Sardis is alive it’s really dead. He knows the casual kind of faith and following that characterizes the church of Laodicea. Jesus knows. Though no one else does, Jesus knows.
The question, then, as we look at our lives today is whether the knowledge of Jesus is immensely comforting, or absolutely terrifying? In either case, the gospel is the answer. For this great high priest who identifies so with our struggles stands ready to comfort or convict; to encourage or to forgive.