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Life by the Sword

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live–where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city–where Satan lives.” Revelation 2:12-13

Image result for Satan's Throne PergamumPergamum means citadel in Greek. Once capital of the region, Pergamum became the first site of the Imperial–or Caesar–Cult in the Roman Empire. But the city was home to many pagan temples: Zeus [king of kings and god of gods], Asclepius [healer], Demeter [harvest/provider], Dionysius [pleasure], and Athena [wisdom].

It’s no wonder then that Jesus introduces His words to the Pergamenian Christians by reminding them that He has the sharp, double-edged sword. His words are the judgment that matter. And, knowing where they live, His words–not Satan’s pantheon of Greek and Roman frauds–were the only true judgments on which they were to build their lives.

Because Jesus is the actual King of Kings and Lord of Lords [Revelation 19:16]. Jesus is the divine physician and the healer from whom all healing flows [Exodus 15:26]. Jesus is the Lord of the Harvest and our loving provider [Matthew 9:38; Genesis 22:14]. Jesus is the center of pure pleasure because He came that we might have life more abundantly [John 10:10]. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and in Jesus are all the treasures of wisdom [Proverbs 9:10; Colossians 2:3].

But to proclaim Jesus in Pergamum was to denounce the gods and goddesses, to be basically labeled an atheist and subject oneself to Roman persecution. Pergamum was truly a city where Satan had his throne. But Jesus commends the church here for holding onto His Name. A Name that is above all names [Philippians 2:9], but that sentenced its bearers to suffering and even death.

Tradition holds that Antipas was the first bishop here and that he was martyred–that is killed–for his faith in Jesus. Despite his death, the church at Pergamum held onto Jesus as a child holds firmly to a park merry-go-round that is spinning faster and faster, threatening to throw them off. And Jesus held just as firmly to them–as He does to us–while the world does all it can to loosen our grip on the truth.

These are the positives that Jesus has for Pergamum. In the next few verses, we will learn where this church fell short. But consider what they did right as you consider your own life today.

Do the things of Satan [that is anything that is contrary to God’s will] infuse the cultural context in which you live? Whose judgments matter in your life? On whose words do you build your life? Do you hold onto Jesus’ name even in the face of opposition?

Alive and Active

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“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 feet and 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 in a glowing 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 shining like the sun in all its brilliance.” Revelation 1:12-16

Image result for thracian long swordNow that John has set the stage, he begins to reveal how his vision unfolded. At first he turns to see the owner of the voice that told him to write to the seven churches of Asia Minor. The first thing he sees are golden lampstands, a well-known tabernacle/temple furnishing among the Jews, not unlike people-height menorahs.

Walking or standing in among these candle-less lamps is someone he describes to be like a son of man. Now Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man about eighty-five times in the gospels, while He let others recognize Him as and call Him the Son of God. The Jews were familiar with the Daniel 7:13 prophecy about the son of man quoted in Revelation 1:7, so it’s likely Jesus was proclaiming to them that he was, in fact, the fulfillment of this prophecy.

But the title Son of Man also shows that this person speaking to John had human form. A human form that was dressed in the full-length robe of the high priests and kingly golden sash. A human form that also bore resemblance to the Daniel 7:9 description of God–clothing white as snow, hair white as wool, flaming throne.

As we’ll learn later, the seven stars represent the angels of the seven churches to which John is writing [Revelation 1:20]. And isn’t it comforting, knowing the persecution these Christians faced, that Jesus held their angels in his almighty hand? That he himself walked among the churches?

Not only that, but as he did so, a double-edged sword–likely a long Thracian sword symbolizing divine judgment–came from his mouth. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that, the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing… And John 1 describes Jesus as that word of God. That word that we hide in our hearts that we might not sin against God [Psalm 119:11], because the word judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart [Hebrews 4:12].

Is the word of God alive and active in your life today? Do you hide God’s word in your heart, allowing it to penetrate your thoughts and attitudes in all things?

Brick and Tar Vengeance

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:3-4

Image result for sunbaked bricksLook at all of the rich tiebacks in these few verses. Under the direction of Nimrod [Genesis 10:10; Josephus Antiquities], the people consorted to build a city and tower. Not just any tower, but one built of bricks not stone.

Why would scripture mention a detail like that? Well, it’s possible that this is the first time in history that human beings made bricks to use in construction. More importantly, is to know why the people under Nimrod’s command wanted to build the tower.

According to secular historian, Josephus, Nimrod excited the people to an affront and contempt of God. He was a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded people not to credit God or give Him glory for any joy they had in life, but to believe that they could be happy in and of themselves from their own courage. Nimrod also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power.

More than that, Nimrod was in God’s face about the flood. He swore to revenge himself on God, if He ever drowned the world again. So Nimrod planned to build a tower too high for the waters to reach as a means of avenging himself on God for the previous destruction.

Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. Did you catch it? Nimrod and the people were building a waterproof tower that they could climb to safety in case God chose to flood them out again for doing it.

But why not stone? Simple. God created stone, and they didn’t want to show any reliance on Him. They wanted to create their own materials and build for themselves to show God that they didn’t need Him. Not only that, but they repeated the attitude of Cain [Genesis 4:17]. While God wanted people to split up and stop influencing each other to do wrong and mistreating one another, Nimrod said, Hey, let’s do it our way. Let’s build a city and stay together.

Remember Satan’s lie to the angel and to Adam and Eve in the garden? You can be like God–in other words, you can be your own God? He hasn’t changed his tune over the course of human history. We see it cropping back up here within a few generations after the flood to such an extreme level that Nimrod is inciting the whole earth against their Creator.

What’s in your heart? What about the influences in your life? Is there anything telling you to do it your way, for yourself and all by yourself? Trust God. Bring this thing under submission to Him and watch the blessing that this releases in your life. Know that those who stand opposed to God will–like Cain and Nimrod–stand judgment before God and confess that He alone is Lord [Romans 14:11]. But, oh, the grief they will bear for the sins they cherished in this life. Do not be like them. Be blessed.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers [Psalms 1:1].

The Rainbow: Heaven Manifest on Earth

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all the living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” Genesis 9:12-16

Image result for rainbow + imageWedding rings are not themselves a promise, but just a sign of a promise that was made. Whenever a husband and wife see or feel the circle of gold on their finger, they remember the promise that they made to be faithful to one another.

So the rainbow is a sign of God’s faithfulness to His promise.

However, He didn’t just promise human beings, but every living creature whose existence is bound to ours. Adam and Eve were charged with stewarding the animal kingdom [Genesis 1:26]. Noah obeyed the command to receive and tend the animals in the ark [7:2-3]. Likewise, we ought to recognize that our choices and our end are not ours alone. When the earth was destroyed in the flood, it didn’t merely destroy precious habitats, but all animal life–except for those contained in the ark–perished along with sinful mankind.

God holds back His return out of love for His creation. But He will not hold it back forever [6:3].

At this point, it’s imperative to draw a distinction between mythology and the Bible. Myths use fictional stories to explain natural phenomena to a culture that didn’t understand the scientific truth. The Bible, however, teaches scientific truths behind natural phenomena and explains how these truths testify to the Almighty God.

Take the rainbow for example. Mythologies would offer an explanation such as this:

A beautiful maiden, favored of the gods, received suitors from near and far. Each brought a precious stone from their homeland and laid it at her feet. They would know whose heart she had chosen by whose stone she wore around her neck on the day of the great feast. But the maiden could not choose. Instead she made her necklace of every stone. The suitors became jealous of one another waiting for a decision and began to war with one another, but the gods admired the maiden’s loving wisdom. So when the war came to her palace gates, the gods whisked her safely into the air. Her necklace fell away behind her. To this day, her many stoned necklace appears on the warring clouds of storms, as a rainbow.

But notice how God says that He set His rainbow in the skies. Revelation describes the throne room of heaven, and God is, in fact, encircled by a rainbow that shone like an emerald [4:3], and the New Jerusalem’s foundation is inlaid with ascending layers of precious stones coming in every color of the rainbow [21:19-20].

Being surrounded Himself by rainbows, God knows full well how they form. He allowed this piece of His heavenly throne room to manifest itself on earth, and He says that the rainbow will appear in the clouds–not that He sends each one, but that He set in motion the science behind the natural processes that give us rainbows…air, water and light.

And the purpose of this rainbow is to remind Him that even though sin brews like a storm on the earth, He promised never to destroy the entire earth in floodwaters again. Local floods will happen, but there will always be a refuge of dry ground.

Do you believe that God is faithful to keep His promises? Do you know the promises that He has made to us in scripture? Become a students of God’s Word so that you can stand in faith.

Sacred

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” Genesis 9:5-6

Image result for protect life + imageOur lives are sacred. If it were not so, sin would only be towards God. But God loves each of us so much [John 3:16], that He calls us not to sin against one another and, moreover, not to take any one’s life.

We are not gods, but we are made in God’s image. We can love God with all that we are, and we can sin against Him. But we can also love our fellow humans as ourselves, and we can sin against them. Do you see how tightly God patterned us after Himself?

He will demand an accounting–a report for all bloodshed. God is just. He will not avert His eyes to allow some to murder, while others are vigilantly watched. “For it is appointed unto every man to die once, and after that to face judgment,” [Hebrews 9:27]. Even animals, here, are required to give God an accounting for their actions. This may mean that there will be animals in heaven as well. Or it may mean that C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of talking animals–in line with the serpent in the Garden–is more accurate than modern humans would imagine.

Either way, there is a third person in the Hebrew that must give an account for bloodshed–a brother. In this new, post-flood Creation, God warns immediately of the repercussions of living as Cain did. And this time, He doesn’t offer a mark of protection but a sentence of capital punishment.

Many people throughout history deny that God exists because of passages like this. They don’t look at the truth that God is protecting all human beings by instituting punishments for crimes. Rather, they look at all of the possible “grey area” scenarios where this punishment would seem a perversion or an extreme. They seat themselves as judge over God Himself and rule this capital punishment–that fits the crime–as unloving, intolerant and unjust. Yet we have these same types of criminal law and consequences throughout U.S. history precisely because it is necessary to ensures that people have to answer for their actions–so that maybe they will think and repent, think again, about their deeds.

Why is this so very important to God? Because He made us in His image. Even for the shed blood of Jesus that He willingly laid down for us, will be demanded an accounting. If we refused His sacrifice, it will be an accounting of judgment. If we accepted, it will be accounting of the deeds born to that faith.

Do you treat all life as sacred? Even those who bother you? Ask God to help you see and love all people through His eyes, so you can truly know what it means that we are made in His image and loved by Him–what it truly means that our life and Christ’s sacrifice are sacred.

As One Standing in the Gap

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart: ‘Never again will curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:21-22

Image result for ropes course spotterGod can smell. Did you know that? He enjoys savoring the scent of fire-grilled meat that waft heavenward just as much as we might enjoy driving by a local barbecue pit with the windows down. When we please God–as we were intended to do from our Creation [1:26]–He remembers [8:1] us, that is He keeps us in mind as worthy of consideration.

Makes sense. Our relationship must always be a two-way street. We remember God, that is we keep Him in mind as worthy of our consideration by pleasing Him, and He remembers us. He remembers us and forgets–puts out of His mind–our sins, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.

God prays for our hearts. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever [Deuteronomy 5:29]! Because we were created to love God with our whole heart et al and to love our fellow human beings just like we love ourselves. But the natural inclination of our heart, our human tendency, is evil–morally wrong or profoundly immoral.

But here, Noah stands in the gap. Because of Noah’s faithful and righteous remembrance of God, God promises that no human being ever after–until the end of the earth [Revelation 6:14; Matthew 24:35; 1 John 2:17]–will have to endure total world destruction.

And God’s promises are faithful and true [2 Corinthians 1:20]. So when the scientists and the news reports predict asteroids or comets colliding with earth, the polar ice caps melting and flooding the earth, the sun running out of fuel or exploding or whatever, we don’t have to be afraid. They’re wrong and God’s right. He promised that we will always have planting and harvesting so we can self-sustain, cold and heat and summer and winter so the earth can rest and then live again, and day and night so that our bodies–especially our eyes–can fully rest. If Jesus is the Lord of our life, we don’t need to fear human predictions, we just need to trust and obey God.

We don’t make animal sacrifices since the death of Christ, but we can still be a pleasing aroma to Him. Our prayers are like a fragrant incense [Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:4]. And we can live as one standing in the gap, just like Noah did for us, reminding God of how very good His Creation was and is. Remembering our love for Him as He remembers His love for us.

How often do you pray? Do you daily fill up God’s nostrils with the perfume of prayer? Do you live as one standing in the gap? In other words, by your life, does God remember in you the goodness of His Creation and hold back the floodgates of heaven’s wrath once more?

Beginning Again

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry. Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you–the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground–so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number.” Genesis 8:13-17

Image result for grand canyonRemember that the flood began on the seventh day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year [7:11]. Now almost one year later–happy birthday Noah–and, by the way, look at how the water’s dried up!

But notice who opens the ark’s door. Noah. God shut him in [7:16] before the flood, but Noah opens the door after. So Noah could move this door after all. Was it because of compassion that Noah didn’t close the ark door beforehand? Was he trying to wait until the last possible moment and then some to see if someone would respond to his hundred year message now that the rain proved true?

And God was no less compassionate. He sent Noah and company into the ark one whole week before the floods began [7:4]. He even held the door open when the rains and flooding first began. But when it was clear that no one would turn their hearts to Him short of facing the end of their lives, God closed the door.

You see, that’s the rub of freewill. God is not willing that any of us should come to Him under threat or compulsion. Only those who entered the ark freely of their own accord were saved. Only those who lived by faith received God’s grace.

Eleven months later the earth’s surface was dry, and we know that there were at least olive trees growing again [8:11]. Nearly two months later–a full year and twenty seven days, or almost thirteen months!–God spoke to Noah again. This time to tell him that the earth was finally dry enough to inhabit again.

He also told Noah to send every one of the animals from the ark back into the earth. At that point, Noah and his family were still vegetarian [at least for seven more verses; 9:2], but it may have been tempting to hold on to some of the beasts of burden or the messenger doves. Who knows culturally exactly what Noah was accustomed to for “modern convenience” in his day. But no Noah, don’t keep any of the animals in the ark, and you come out too. It’s time to start anew. Let the creatures multiply as I created them to do. And mankind also.

When we are a new creation in Christ, God calls us to come out of the cleansing flood that washes away our sin. He prepares our hearts to start anew. And one day, the flood of end times will judge the world once more. We will escape this judgment only in the ark of Christ. After the end comes, we will once again start anew, but this time with a new heaven and a new earth [Revelation 21:1] and a new heavenly body [2 Corinthians 5:1-3].

Have you been made a new creature in Christ? Have you been washed in His cleansing flood?