The Wall Street Journal recently carried a front-page article describing the so-called “Revenge Industry.” This is a new kind of business which caters to those who have been wronged and are unwilling to forgive.
“Revenge Unlimited” is one example—through its web site it sells dead flowers, black roses, boxes of fish heads, melted chocolates, and stones with curses on them. Drop Dead Florist in Orlando has five full-time employees, and had to hire six more for Valentines Day week. The Voodoo Boutique will sell you a variety of magic-spell kits and voodoo dolls for the person you hate.
Only in America, you say? No, the Revenge Industry is as old as Cain, the brother of Abel, and as appealing to us as it was to him.
Lewis Smedes wrote the wonderful book Forgive and Forget. Here’s how it begins: “Somebody hurt you, maybe yesterday, maybe a lifetime ago, and you cannot forget it. You did not deserve the hurt. It went deep, deep enough to lodge itself in your memory. And it keeps on hurting you now.
Alfred Nobel’s brother died, but the press got confused and ran his obituary instead. It was titled, “The Dynamite King,” since he invented the explosive, and described the mass destruction dynamite had caused. Nobel was horrified. Then and there he determined to change things. In his last will and testament, he deeded his great fortune to establishing an award honoring those who work for peace and harmony in the world. The Nobel Peace Prize was the result.
We all want to leave a legacy. We carve names into granite or marble tombstones, and in tree trunks and wet concrete. We want to outlive ourselves, to be remembered well.
But there are better ways. We can determine today what our legacy will be. In fact, we must.
Ruth was a Gentile, thus hated by the Jews. And worse, she was from Moab, and they hated the Moabites most of all.
Moab was the son of Lot and one of his daughters; the name Moab means “from father,” a permanent reminder of his incestuous beginnings.
Sometimes the honeymoon ends too quickly. And sometimes it never starts.
I read about this classified ad: “For sale—Wedding dress. Never been worn. Will trade for .38 pistol.”
I heard about the man who was determined to marry a certain woman. He began writing her a love letter every day, then three a day. In all he wrote her more than 700 letters—and she married the postman.
What do we do when love grows boring? When the new wears off of our faith, or our family?
One third of all married Americans say they are now or have had an affair. Nearly half of all Americans say there is no reason to ever be married. Only 32% say they would stay in a bad marriage for the sake of the kids. 53% say they would cheat on their spouse, given the opportunity.
And what’s true horizontally is also true vertically. Only 27% of Americans participate in worship regularly. Only one in ten of us believe in each of the Ten Commandments. It takes 39 Baptists a year to lead one person to Christ. Across all denominations, it takes 85 church members one year to lead one person to Jesus.
The publication New York Newsday carried this report a few years ago: “Former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman’s son is to marry Bill’s ex-wife’s mother. Wyman’s son from a previous marriage, Stephen, age 30 announced his engagement to Patsy Smith, age 46, the mother of Wyman’s former wife, Mandy, age 22. The marriage would make the rock star his ex-wife’s step-grandfather.”
Marriage can be confusing.
And no marriage is safe from storms. Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford were a model of married happiness until their problems made headlines. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and Alex Baldwin and Kim Basinger are only the most recent Hollywood break-ups. No marriage is immune from problems. No relationship is guaranteed.
And relationships are even harder when we don’t know the essentials necessary to them. Fortunately, God’s word is clear on the basics. What do wives’ needs have in common? The gift our text calls “nourishing love.” What do husbands’ needs have in common? The commitment our text calls “encouraging respect.”
Jesus’ letters are addressed in a circular route. From Smyrna, the road north followed the coastline some 40 miles before turning in a northeastern direction up the valley of the Caicus River. About 10 miles from the Aegean Sea stood the city of Pergamum.
Pliny, the Roman governor of the area, said Pergamum was “by far the most distinguished city in Asia” (Historia naturalis 5.30). For more than 300 years she was the capitol city for the entire region.
Built on a cone-shaped hill a thousand feet in elevation, Pergamum dominated the valley below. From this height the inhabitants of the city could see the Mediterranean Sea 15 miles away. “Pergamum” in Greek means “citadel,” an appropriate description of the city.
Her history began 400 years before Christ, and was a story of constant warfare. Attalus III (ca. 170-133) bequeathed his entire empire to Rome, so that Asia Minor became a Roman province with Pergamum as its capitol. The city retained this status until AD 130.
Ephesus was the greatest city in Asia Minor and was often called Lumen Asiae, “the light of Asia.” It was the wealthiest city in Asia Minor and had the greatest harbor in that part of the world. Three lucrative trade routes led to her shores, bringing wealth from across the Empire. And so she grew to a population of a quarter-million people, a giant metropolis for her day. Her ruins are spectacular still today.
Ephesus was the most religious city in Asia as well. Her money had built the greatest temples and shrines in the ancient world. Her chief claim to fame was the Temple of Diana. It had the following characteristics:
425 feet long by 225 feet wide.
127 columns, each 60 feet high and the gift of a king.
36 of the columns were covered with gold, jewels, and carvings.
The entire temple was made of cypress wood.
The Greeks said, “The sun sees nothing finer in his course than Diana’s Temple.”
Emperor worship was very significant in the city as well, with shrines to the emperors on every major street. Greek mystery cults had followers here as well, and the Jewish contingent was strong.
In this study, we visit Smyrna, the second of the seven churches of Revelation and location of the modern-day city of Izmir. “Smyrna” is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “myrrh.” Myrrh was a gum resin used to make perfume, oil, and embalming fluid. It was extremely bitter. This city was so named because myrrh was one of the products often traded through its port.
For Christians living in ancient Smyrna, “myrrh” or bitterness was not just a name but a reality. Consider the following five stark areas of contrast between the city and her Christian population.
First, her beauty. Smyrna was a thriving metropolis located 35 miles north of Ephesus. She was a resurrected city–destroyed around 580 B.C. by Alyattes, king of Lydia, the city lay in ruins for 300 years before being rebuilt personally by Alexander the Great as a model city and center for his cultural movement.
Her population of 200,000 made her the second-largest city in Asia Minor. While Ephesus claimed to be the “Light of Asia,” Smyrna was known as the “Glory of Asia.” She owned a famous stadium and library, and boasted the largest public theater in Asia. The city also claimed to be the birthplace of Homer, with a famous monument dedicated to the poet.
Thyatira was located 45 miles due east of Pergamum. Jesus wrote his longest letter to the smallest of the seven cities, proof of the significance of the issues confronting his followers there. Her ruins today are not remarkable, but her challenge to Christian fidelity was of vital importance.
Thyatira possessed strategic military significance. It lay at the mouth of a long valley connecting the Hermus and Caicus rivers. Enemies of the empire would have to pass by Thyatira on their way to attack Pergamum. And so the city would defend the capitol of the region, and at least delay attackers until the main city was ready.
The city was not a center of religious importance. She housed temples to Artemis and Apollo, but they were not famous. Neither did she possess a special center for emperor worship. She did own the shrine of Sambathe, a kind of ancient fortune-teller whom many came to consult for guidance.