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The True Triumphal Entry

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9-10

Image result for People Waving Palm Branches Palm Sunday JesusSome of the reason that the 144,000 number in the previous passage creates disagreement among biblical scholars is that it seems to limit who and how many can get into heaven. In reading the larger context of this next portion of scripture though, it seems clear that–like the twenty-four elders of Revelation 4–we are again seeing representation of both the Old and New Testament faithful.

This great multitude is uncountable, like the stars in the sky or sand in the seashore spiritual descendants promised to Abraham [Genesis 22:17; Galatians 3:29; Hebrews 11:12]. See how people from the whole earth–and likely throughout all of history, though time is not mentioned–stand before God the Father, who is on His throne. See Jesus, the Lamb and Son of God, is there before the people too.

It is a white robed multitude, the victorious by grace through faith [Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 3:5] from all the earth for all time. And they hold palm branches and proclaim the gospel, the good news. God is alive. He is on the throne of the whole universe–everything that ever was, or is or will be. He alone holds the power of salvation, and He has brought it through the perfect sacrifice of His spotless Lamb, the Son of God who laid down His earthly life to atone–make right–for our sins.

Do you see the heavenly original brought to light from an earlier scripture? The gospels record an earthly Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem [Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, John 12]. Here the people laid down their cloaks on the road and waved palm branches, heralding Jesus with shouts of Hosanna–meaning O Lord save us. The disciples thought they had backstage passes to the beginning of the kingdom of God in their day, especially when all of Jerusalem turned out to hail their Rabbi as king of the Jews, acknowledging only His ability to bring victory and deliverance from the Romans.

But Jesus knew better. His time had not yet come. The people’s hearts were not yet ready to truly worship and serve Him alone as King. They didn’t fully understand Who He Was and what His heavenly purpose was.

And now that John shows us this moment in heaven when only those who have accepted Jesus as Lord–who have laid down their lives for Him just as He did for us, who have stood faithful and forgiven to the end, who recognize no other as God–wave the palm branch, acknowledging God’s victory and deliverance for all time over sin and death. The true triumphal entry was not Jesus’ donkey ride through Jerusalem, but the day we stand in heaven acknowledging Him Lord. It is our return to perfect communion with God for all eternity. What an incredible day that will be!

Will you be numbered among the white robed multitude? Do you bow your life to Christ alone?

Death and Hades

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Revelation 6:7-8

Image result for gapin beast jawsJesus slips His finger under the center seal, and the final living creature–which is His throne–beckons a fourth horse and rider. Pale, the color of lifelessness. Death. And right behind this personification of Death comes Hades.

Now Hades is the Greek underworld, but also the name of the god in Greek mythology that rules there. The Bible is not corroborating the existence of such a one as this. Rather, since the New Testament was written in Greek, it was using the Greek word for the Hebrew term Sheol that was used throughout the Old Testament to describe the grave and the gated depths of the dead [Job 17:16]. Death and Hades often appear together in scripture, showing the twin ends of life, death and grave.

So here, when Death is allowed to consume one-fourth of humanity, its fellow Hades is permitted to lock these dead in the depths of the grave. It is interesting to note that Sheol is sometimes portrayed in the Old Testament as a fearful beast with gaping jaws [Isaiah 5:14, 14:9; Habakkuk 2:5] and in each case this reference is to the grave.

As humans, it is our sinful natural tendency to fear death, but as Christians we should place our faith and trust in Jesus instead. He conquered death, hell and the grave [Sheol/Hades] [Revelation 1:18]. He holds the keys to them. No one who has died or will die will remain dead in the grave. And everyone who has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ will be present with the Lord when they are absent from the body [2 Corinthians 5:8]. That is to say that we can be assured, like the thief on the cross who accepted Jesus’ lordship, that the day we are parted from our mortal bodies we will be with Jesus in paradise [Luke 23:43].

But woe to those who perish without acknowledging Jesus as Lord. Now that is something to truly fear [Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4], because those who refuse to bow their knee to Jesus will face a second death in the lake of fire [Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 20:14, 21:8].

It is interesting to note that Jesus rides out first [Revelation 6:2], a merciful opportunity for people to recognize and accept Him as Lord. Then war, famine, and death come next [Revelation 6:4, 6, 8]. Still opportunities for unbelievers to recognize God for who He is and repent, though many will further harden their hearts against Him instead. It is also, unfortunately, a time when believers who are not firmly rooted in faith, will fall away [Mark 4:15-20].

We are living in such times. There are wars and rumors of wars, though these may intensify before the end [Matthew 24:6]. There are famines [24:7]. There are people and nations turning to slay one another [Matthew 24:7; Revelation 6:4]. There is death and the grave seemingly for more all the time. Though again, these things may yet intensify before the end.

Is Jesus Lord of your life? Do you have faith that will persevere in the tough times ahead, even to death [Revelation 2:10? Hold onto Jesus through it all, and He will hold onto you.

God’s Promise

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you–the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you–every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:8-11

Image result for covenant agreement + imageCovenant. Agreement. Guarantee. Pledge. Commitment. Contract. God promises Noah and his family, but also all of the creatures on the ark, that He will never again destroy the world in a flood. He will never again wash away sin by a physical deluge.

This speaks so poignantly to the character of God. People find God inconsistent because He sent worldwide destruction through the flood one time and never again. But I for one am glad that I don’t have to worry. That every time the worldwide sin levels rise, they won’t trip the divine deluge trigger. I am so thankful for God’s promise that I can live in peace, by grace through faith, until He comes again and I meet Him in the air.

And the fact that God promises the animals too, that says something about their importance to Him. For while human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation, the animals are no less the work of His hand. Scriptures tell us that not a sparrow falls to the ground that He doesn’t know about [Matthew 10:29].

All life is sacred to God. And He commands us to steward it [Genesis 1:26; Mark 12:31].

Do you value human and animal life as God does? Do you have peace, resting in God’s promises?

God’s Plan or Yours?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how to are build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits  [450 feet] long, fifty cubits [75 feet] wide and thirty cubits [45 feet] high. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit [18 inches] high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.” Genesis 6:14-16

Image result for wood construction + imageWe’ve already seen that God had a very specific plan when He created. And after the Creation fell into sin, He was ready with a very specific plan of redemption. Now, here again, when God tells Noah that He plans to save him, out of all the earth, from the pending destruction, God–not surprisingly–has a very specific plan.

But have you ever thought what might have happened if Noah or his boys got lazy? Or started questioning God’s design?

Cypress, Dad? Are you kidding? Do you realize how far we’re going to have haul that from?

Pitch the whole thing? Inside AND out? Do you know how long that’s going to take?

“What if we shrink those dimensions just a smidge?” Or, “Skip the extra deck and let’s go for one large main room on the other two.” Or, “Let’s leave a bigger space under the roof.” Or maybe, “No space at all.”

It’s laughable because, basically, if they had deviated from God’s plan in anyway, we know that the result would have been disastrous. You don’t hear from God that He’s going to rescue you, receive a specific plan for your escape, and then do your own thing. Not if you want it to work together for your good.

So then, why do we as human beings think that in every other part of our life we can deviate from God’s plan? He gave us His plan for marriage, family, finances, friendship, authority, work and rest, stewardship of the earth, health, citizenship, and–basically–just about every aspect of every area of our private and corporate lives.

And His plan for our earthly life is simple: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength; AND Love your neighbor as yourself [Mark 12:30-31].

His plan for our eternal life is just as specific and just as simple: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved [Acts 16:31].

So doesn’t it make perfect sense that Satan–who is out to steal, kill and destroy [John 10:10] God’s Creation–would tempt us to become our own god and to deviate from God’s very specific, very simple plan for our life now and for eternity?

Are you listening to God’s Word? Do you know His plan of salvation? Are you doing your own thing in this life in any way hoping that God will work your plan together for your good?

From the Student Question Board: What If I Just Really Don’t Like Someone?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:7

Image result for not getting alongRemember back to the Garden of Eden when sin entered the world and God let Adam and Eve know what the effects of this would be? Notably, the effects of sin are: guilt, shame, fear of God [as well as separation from God], experiencing both good and evil, spiritual warfare, emotional and interpersonal struggles, pain, sorrow, decay of the physical world and body, and ultimately death.

The answer to the question that was asked–What if I just really don’t like someone?–is sin. How?

The scriptures list many specific sins [i.e. Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:2-4; et al], and, to be sure, these lists contain many things not-to-like. But sin exists in all of our lives [Romans 3:23]. So it is the effects of sin in my life–interpersonal struggles, guilt, shame, experiencing both good and evil, pain and sorrow–that keep me from liking all of my fellow man. And it is also these same effects of sin in their lives that make other people seem unlovely and unlovable to me.

However, we have to  remember that Jesus died to forgive us and to take the effects of sin from our lives. It’s not easy–no one can say that it is easy to learn to behave contrary to our sin nature–but it is possible and commanded by God that we love every other person on the planet just as much as we love ourselves [Mark 12:31].

So what if I just really don’t like someone? First, recognize that this dislike is the result of the sinful nature. Second, don’t try to hide it from God, He already knows anyway. Instead, ask God to help you to love this person. And not the late twentieth-century cop-out kind of love when some people actually said, “I don’t like’em but I love’em with the love of the Lord.” No, when God says to love others, He meant that we need to learn to like them for real–that’s the only way to genuinely love them as God commanded.

Again, it’s not always easy, but it is possible with God’s help. And remember–But by the grace of God, there go I–a more honest old saying that just means, remember that my sin nature makes me just as unlovely and unlovable to other people as they are to me. But God has called them to love me too, despite my faults.

Got a sin nature? [That’s rhetorical. We all do.] But do you recognize that you are a sinner? Ask God to show you the sin in your life, specifically where it pertains to being able to love everyone that He brings across your path. Because if we can’t love the ones He sends our way, how will we ever win them to Christ?

Love is Golden

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31

Image result for teen teamwork handsIf the two most important things that we do are: 1) to love God with everything about us, and 2) to love others like we love ourselves, then we must know what love is.

God’s definition? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 contains a well-known list of love’s attributes–patience, kindness, not jealous or boastful or proud, etc. Moreover, Jesus called us to love one another the way He–who is God, who is good, and who is love–loves us [1 John 15:13]. He went on to say that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

All summed up? Love is the active, self-deferent care for another. It’s the golden rule lived without exception–not out of obligation–but out of genuine concern for every other human being, even those who don’t love us back [Luke 6:31].

How is that even possible? Learn to see people with God’s eyes.

He made everyone, and He loves each of us all the same. There are no favorites with God. In fact, Jesus made it clear that, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” [Matthew 25:40]. So by loving our fellow human, we are loving God Himself.

As a Mom, this has become so clear to me through my children, but you may want to think about this as having two best friends or two pet dogs. In both cases, you love both equally. No favorites, because they are yours. Because you chose them.

But what if one dog turns and tears the other apart. Would you allow it? Would you ignore it? Or would it break your heart to have to punish one and to watch the other one suffer? And if one best friend hated your other best friend? Just think about the grief of having to time-split, and hearing one constantly tearing the other person apart. But you love them both the same.

God feels this constantly as He watches His creation act hatefully one to another–sometimes willfully and other times thoughtlessly. But love is the golden rule on Energizer batteries–it just keeps going and going. Willing even to give one’s own life up for someone else’s sake.

Is there a limit to your love for others? Ask God to bring it to light and then to remove it from your heart. Is there a limit to your love for God? Seek Him until it dissolves in the refining fire of His presence.

With All Your Strength

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

Image result for rock climbingMost people are aware of their own strength. How much they can lift. How far they can run. What other exertion they can tolerate to what extent and for how long. And we tend to stay within these limits, because we know that pain awaits on the other side. With training, we can increase our personal strength threshold, but we can never completely erase the limitation of our humanity.

And we should take care of our bodies out of love for our Creator. We only get one physical being to carry us through this world. How we care for it–or not–often determines which physical limitations we will face in life. Though it is appointed to every one to die once [Hebrews 9:27], it is not required of us to be frail and ill in our senior years.

When we have our health and strength, we are much more able to be about the Lord’s work. But what about when our health is failing? What about when our strength isn’t strong enough? Even in our best moments, God may ask us to do more than we are personally capable of, because in our weakness He shows Himself strong [2 Corinthians 12:9].

Whatever we are capable of, we are to use all of it to love–a choice of will–the Lord our God. Each breath. Each stand. Each step. If we run, we run to delight in Him. If we jump or dance, we do so to glorify Him as our Creator. If we train our bodies to excel in athletics, we should do so to honor Him alone. If we lift our arms, we should lift them to praise or to bring praise to the Lord our God.

And if He asks us to push beyond our known limits, then we choose to love Him in all our human weakness so that He may show Himself strong, both to us and to the world around us.

Are you loving God with all of your strength? Do you give glory to Him in your weakness?