First Fruits 1/24

***For sensitive readers, some of the content in this devotional is graphic in nature.***
Blood & Fire
            If the wicked are ruling the nation, sin will be everywhere, but those who live right will win in the end. Proverbs 29:16
            He was merely 16 years old when he ascended the throne in Rome. The year was AD 54, and his reign of terror would last 14 bloody years. His name was Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. He was by far the cruelest of the Caesars.
            The throne was everything to Nero. His pursuits were sought with steadfast determination. His appetite for power was veracious. Even family members were not exempt from his powerful quest. Those who threatened his seat over Rome’s dynasty mysteriously disappeared or were murdered in cold blood. Such were his younger stepbrother, a possible predecessor to the throne and his own mother whose controlling habits set her son off. When it came to the crown, Nero favored no one. 
            What happens when unsaved, unenlightened, character-deficient people are handed powerful positions? The spirit of the rich man (see Matt. 19:24) comes upon them creating an unquenchable appetite for more, and the entire population suffers at the hands of their self-serving ambition.
            Rulers will either serve the people or they will serve themselves.
            Nero enjoyed an opulent lifestyle. Like so many wicked rulers, he bled the tax paying citizens dry to support his extravagant lifestyle. His love for architecture sparked a huge controversy when a devastating fire broke out in Rome in AD 64. For nine days the city burned uncontrollably. Heavy speculation circulated that Nero orchestrated the fire to provide himself a blank canvas for his latest architectural endeavor. To deflect the narrative, Nero publicly blamed a group of people he hated – Christians.
            Since Nero loved the darkness, he naturally despised those who represented the light. Hear Jesus’ words on this. 
            “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” Matthew 15:18
            As Nero spread the lie that the Christians were the source of the chaos in Rome, people turned their wrath away from Nero and onto the God-fearing population.
            Isn’t it sad how people will follow propaganda blindly without investigating the truth? Since Covid, we are witnessing mindless followings everywhere we turn. It’s mind boggling to me!
            To further divert the public’s attention, Nero set up spectacles to chastise the Christians for a crime they didn’t commit. At the Coliseum sporting events, starving lions were unleashed on Christians wearing animal skins. Innocent men and women were torn to shreds to entertain the audience. Others were coated in tar and tied to stakes lining the roadways. At night they were set on fire to light the streets. Other Christians were torn in half when their limbs were tied to four charging horses. Many experienced crucifixions similar to Jesus. The treatment was barbaric. The persecution was tangible. 
            But the faith of Jesus’ followers was greater still!
            How could the early Christians stare in the face of such persecution with steadfast determination? The early church had fresh encounters with the living God! They were endowed with grace (strength) from above. They knew Jesus, and the fear of the Lord resided in their bellies! This is power! This is truth! A God-fearing man or woman has no fear of man! It is a supernatural endowment - one we must all pray for.
            Nero, on the other hand, had no fear of God, and his life choices displayed this truth. After Rome stopped burning, he did in fact build himself a new palace – the Domus Aurea. By then, his barbaric spectacles with the Christian population diverted the public’s attention, and he was no longer blamed for Rome’s destruction. It is of note that Nero also erected a massive statue of himself. The Colossus of Nero towered 30-35 meters tall. It was an ominous reminder of Nero’s pride and the distorted view he had of himself.      
            The blood of the martyrs flowed in Rome, but that did not stop the church’s growth. In fact, it fueled its growth! Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 
            He also said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul & body in hell.” Matthew 10:28
            Sin will always collect its debts. In the end, Nero committed suicide when leading Roman officials turned against him. And in the end, the saints were welcomed home into a heavenly kingdom with their glorious King!
            Hold onto this truth – evil rulers will always be in our midst. But we, the children of God, must remain steadfast in our resolve to trust and fear God only. In the end, we too will be ushered into the King’s presence, and all we now face will fall away. In the end, we will win! Let us finish this race strong!
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