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I Will Give You the Crown of Life

International cities that are not frequently in the news don’t really register with us.  The name of a city in some place in the world does not really register and is truly foreign to us.  As we listen, we hear the name of the country where an event happened, but if asked later the name of the city, most often we cannot repeat it.

For example, this past week, Izmir, Turkey was in the news.  Do you remember why?  Do you know anything about Izmir?  Did that bring to mind anything Biblical about that site?

Andrew Brunson was a resident of Izmir for 23 years where he pastored the Izmir Resurrection Church.  The small congregation of 25 members was a house church plant from Christ Community Church in Montreat, NC.  Pastor Brunson was affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian.

Following a coup in October 2016 against the government of Turkey, and specifically against Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey’s government, wide sweeping arrests were made.  Thousands of people from various walks of life were incarcerated.  Pastor Brunson was one of those. He was charged with espionage and with aligning with the group that plotted the overthrow of Erdogan.  He was facing up to 35 years in prison if he was convicted.  Pastor Brunson continually declared that he was innocent of all charges.  He stated to the court, “I know why I am here. I am here to suffer in Jesus’ name. I love Jesus and I love Turkey”.

When he was arrested, he was put in a prison cell designed for 8 men but housing 21 men in that small space. During the two years of his imprisonment, he lost 50 pounds.

When Pastor Brunson was finally freed October 12, 2018, he was met by his wife and family, tearfully rejoicing that he was freed and home again. He returned to the US and his first stop was the White House, where he met with President Trump to thank him for all that he and his staff had done to work for his release.  And, he thanked members of the Senate including Oklahoma’s James Lankford and other organizations for their devotion to work for his freedom.  He then knelt in prayer in the Oval Office filled with various dignitaries and the press to pray for Mr. Trump and for our country.

So, you may be asking by now, what does all of that have to do with the name of Izmir, Turkey?  I would like to tell you that the city of Izmir is ancient. In Biblical times, it had the name “Smyrna”.  If you remember, Jesus spoke to Seven Churches in the Book of Revelation.  One of those seven was in Smyrna.  It was the only one of the seven that Jesus did not have any word of correction or criticism. Why?

Smyrna had a Christian congregation undergoing persecution from the city’s Jews (Revelation 2:9). The letter to the church predicted that the persecution would continue and urged them, “Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). The persecution of Christians continued into the 2nd century, as documented by the martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, in AD 155.  And, the persecution of Christians in Smyrna (Izmir) continues to this present day.  May God provide mercy and grace to strengthen the saints suffering in Jesus’ name for their faith.