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by Kristen C. Strocchia
“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty–yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Revelation 2:8-11
Unlike the other churches of Revelation, the church of Smyrna received all accolades and encouragements from Jesus.
To them He calls Himself the First and the Last. And Jesus’ eternality is an important comfort to the Smyrnian Christians. They suffered affliction. They lived in poverty, but they had spiritual wealth that the world around them couldn’t understand. They were lied about by religious phonies. And they were about to experience even more trouble–prison, persecution, and possibly death.
The victor’s crown that Jesus spoke about was the olive wreath worn by champion athletes in Roman arenas. Those from Smyrna knew this cultural allusion well, though as Christians under the reign of Domitian, their only arena games were likely unarmed, deadly bouts with lions.
Jesus tells it like it is. You will suffer. You might even die. But then I–the One True God–will crown you the victor. Greater than any reward that a Caesar, who put himself in the place of God, could ever bestow–Jesus offered life, eternal life, to the faithful Christians who endured.
And after exhorting them to hear Him over the din of the world, He reaffirms that in the victory secured by their faith, the Smyrnian Christians would not experience the sting of second death [1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 20:14]. Because Jesus is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end. He was and is and is to come [Revelation 1:8 & 4:8]. His victory over death, hell and the grave is the promised reward to the faithful, and He alone is able to make such a promise.
Jesus is calling us to endure today, much as He did with the church of Smyrna centuries ago. Do you fix your eyes on spiritual abundance over physical wealth? Will you be faithful however far the world pushes you? Can you discern God’s voice over the din? If so, remain faithful. He has a crown of life with your name on it.
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
Look 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].
by Bridget Sileo
“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.” Romans 6:16-18
Slavery–in our American mind, it evokes the image of people being taken forcibly from their homelands and forced to work in deplorable conditions or face terrible punishments or even death. The New Testament uses slavery as a metaphor in many different places, but is this what it means? Are we helpless victims of the master we serve, whether it is Christ or sin? Or could the writers have had something different in mind?
In the culture in which the New Testament was written, it was not uncommon for people to have indentured servants, who would voluntarily enlist as a servant to another person or household for a period of time in exchange for room and board because that person could not survive otherwise. I believe the writers of the New Testament had something more like this scenario in mind when they describe us as slaves.
Romans 6:16-18 tell us that we have a choice. We can choose to live in sin’s house and eat its food, which seems attractive at first, but will lead to death. We can choose to live in God’s house and do as He tells us. This both puts responsibility on us and comforts us.
The choice is ours, but in this illustration we can’t see ourselves as a slave who is unable to break free from sin. We choose which master we want to serve. Sin doesn’t have us in chains that we can’t escape from. God has already broken the chains of sin in our lives. We must choose to shake them off and walk away from them in obedience to God.
Which house will you choose? Whom will you serve?
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
Covenant. 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?
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
God 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?
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
Remember 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?
by Kristen C. Strocchia
“The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days. But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and He sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” Genesis 7:24-8:4
One hundred and fifty days–five months–total, living with and caretaking all of the animals chosen to repopulate the post-flood earth. Forty days of rain and active flooding [Genesis 7:17], so one-hundred ten days of floodwaters with nowhere to go.
But God remembered. Now this doesn’t mean that God forgets things like you and I do. Remember here means to keep [someone] in mind as worthy of consideration or recognition. God kept Noah in mind. He watched over Noah’s situation in the ark, with all the animals in his charge. God watched over his whole family because–having been found full of faith and righteous, that is, having remembered God [or finding God worthy of consideration]–God also found Noah worthy of consideration.
Remembrance is a two-way street.
Now think back. Rainwater from heavenly floodgates and floodwaters pushed out of the broken open springs of the deep for forty days. So where in our world did all this water go? Well, the Bible tells us that wind helped cause the waters to recede.
Today we know that wind assists with evaporation in the water cycle, so some of this water returned to the sky in the form of clouds. The wind also helps to create surface ripples that grow into currents that help direct water, so some of this water was herded into the geographic formations sculpted during the flood itself. Which land features formed in the flood? It’s possible that the tectonic plates resulted from the water bursting out of the crust of the earth. It’s also possible that ocean trenches, canyons, faults, lakes and mountains are all resulted from the shifting of the earth in the flood. We also know that wind cools, and there is a very good possibility that the ice caps and the glaciers in our world are frozen remnants of the receding flood.
Can we also just say, on Day 3 of the Creation God spoke and the waters gathered into one place so that dry land appeared [1:9]. So using the wind He created and controls to drive back the floodwaters from the face of the earth is a nonissue. It’s a God thing. Just like Him perfectly orchestrating the touchdown of the ark on the mountains of Ararat.
The whole earth was destroyed, but I’ve no doubt that God knew well that under the waters there was a place that was best for mankind to start again.
God loves every person who has ever lived, is living now, and will ever live [John 3:16]. He remembered–kept every human ever in mind as worthy of His consideration–when He made a plan of redemption, when Jesus Christ went to the cross to carry out that plan, and when He returns again one day. God didn’t redeem the world for His own sake. He didn’t need to repossess us. He redeemed us to buy back our lives on our behalf, so that He could return our lives to us–eternally.
Do you know that we serve a great God? Do you know that He alone is God, and He is good, and He loves you? Do you know that He remembers you, finding you worthy of His consideration? Do you also remember Him?