Temptation of Christ: March 21st 2021

The Israelites started to crave food other than manna. The NIV says they ‘started wailing‘. The plethora of recipe books in my kitchen testify that I often long for variety in my diet. However, I usually can’t be bothered to consult a recipe or gather any exotic ingredients and so permanently exist on a handful of tried and tested recipes. I have some sympathy with the wailing Israelites as I once tried replacing all my lunches with a food replacement drink. All I had to do was add water to a powder and shake it. The drink was advertised as containing exactly the right balance of nutrients and vitamins. I thought it would save loads of time and money. It was horrible. I gave it away and went back to normal food. Manna sounds relatively delicious, ‘It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey‘ (Exodus 16:31). However, it is in our human nature to seek novel experiences, which often don’t work out well.

The complaints about the constant diet of manna seems to be instigated by non-Jews tagging along with them: ‘The rabble with them began to crave other food’. We have to be careful of the company that we keep and reject bad influences.

The Lord became exceedingly angry at their complaint that they were ‘better off in Egypt (v.18)‘. Back in Egypt, they were living in slavery and their new-born sons were being executed. The Israelites had a very short memory if they thought that was a good price to pay for some cucumbers and melons.

Moses was allocated 70 leaders to help him share the burden of leadership. Intriguingly, the Lord says: ‘I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them‘. When the Spirit rests on each one of the leaders they prophesied, ‘but they did not do so again’ (v.25). This is typical of the action of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit rests on someone for a specific purpose, for a specific length of time and gives someone a supernatural ability for a limited period. These days, as baptised Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living permanently within us.

Two of the named 70 leaders hadn’t even gone to the Tent of Meeting, where God had come down in the cloud, and yet they still received the Spirit and started prophesying. This indicates that we don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to any particular site to receive the Spirit. God will give Him to us wherever we are, if we ask.

Joshua, Moses’ assistant, thought that these two leaders should be stopped from prophesying. Moses replied that he wished all the Israelites would receive the Spirit and prophesy. His speech reminds me of Jesus, ‘for whoever is not against us if for us’ (Mark 9:40). Many traditional Christians exhibit a lack of understanding or even spiritual envy towards charismatic Christians, such as Pentecostals, who publicly demonstrate gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues. We should be inspired by their example and ask for these gifts ourselves. I started praying in tongues as a Catholic when I prayed to the Holy Spirit in my bathroom to come into my life fully. I didn’t have to go to a particular church or meeting place to receive this supernatural gift. It is fantastic that the Holy Spirit could simultaneously give all 2.3 billion Christians in the world all His supernatural gifts if each one knew about them and asked Him for them.

Moses questioned whether the Lord can provide enough meat for 600,000 men for a whole month. Considering that God was already cross, Moses got away lightly with doubting God’s power.

God sent the Israelites a prodigious quantity of quail. Some of the Israelites probably complained, ‘These aren’t very big!

Even while they were still eating, ‘the anger of the Lord burned amongst the people, and he struck them with a severe plague (v.33). What kind of plague? A severe plague. By the time of Jesus’s public ministry, the habit of striking people with plagues seems to have stopped. There is no record of Jesus either giving someone an illness or taking the shackles off the devil to allow him to do it. God, in the Old Testament, shows all the emotions that us humans, made in his image, can demonstrate including righteous anger and retribution. Jesus, as the Creator who constantly intercedes for us, is the personification of God’s love. In the New Testament, Jesus said God would willingly send more than twelve legions of angels to defend him – who would then annihilate his attackers – but only if Jesus asked him to (Matthew 26:53). Jesus is the one who comes between us and the wrath of the Father. God, the Father, ‘showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might love through him’ (1 John 4:9).

Mirian and Aaron, Moses’ elder brother and sister, started to gossip about Moses because of his wife, who wasn’t an Israelite. God instantly summoned all three to the Tent of Meeting. It is always best to deal with management problems as soon as possible and not let them fester. God explained to them that he has a special relationship with Moses. He speaks to other prophets in visions or dreams but ‘With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles (v.8).’ When Jesus taught he often taught in parables, which even the disciples failed to understand – and he had to explain them clearly afterwards.

The anger of the Lord burned against Aaron and Miriam. Miriam became leprous in punishment for her behaviour whereas Jesus went around curing lepers. Aaron apologised and pleaded for his sister and Moses, even though he was the one wronged by his siblings, also interceded for her healing. God agreed to heal her, but only after she is confined outside the camp for seven days in disgrace. God obviously found Miriam more guilty of gossip and slander against her Cushite sister-in-law than Aaron.

Twelve Israelite leaders were sent as spies to explore the promised land of Canaan. These included Moses’ trusty assistant, Joshua, who we discover used to be called ‘Hoshea son of Nun’ (13:16) prior to Moses renaming him. Joshua basically means ‘ the Lord is salvation’ and is very similar in meaning to the name Jesus.

Moses gave them a detailed list of the facts they are to gather on their spying mission and also said ‘Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land’ (v.20). Moses was an excellent manager. He specified exactly what he needed but also gave them them free rein to do their best and improvise.

The spies explored for 40 days and found that the grapes were so enormous that two of them were required to carry a single cluster of grapes on a pole (v.23). Not only were there giant grapes, there were actual giant people, ‘the descendants of Anak’ (v.22). The promised land certainly looked fruitful and productive and worth taking over, as long as the Israelites were not scared of giants.

Luke 3:23-4:13

Here we have the family tree of Joseph, Jesus and Mary’s human guardian. At first glance, if one were asked to read out this list of names in church, it doesn’t look particularly inspiring. It looks like a bit of a chore. However, this list of names is another one of the most mind-blowing bits of the Bible.

It basically gives you the age of the earth. It gives you the timeline from creation until Jesus was born. It is an unbroken list of descendants from Adam, who God created on the sixth day of creation.

There are some mighty and familiar names on this list of Josephs ancestors including God / Adam / Seth / Enoch / Noah / Abraham / Isaac / Jacob / Judah / Boaz / Jesse / David / Joseph.

The Bible gives the ages at which some of these mighty men of God died, e.g. Noah lived for 950 years, and so it’s easy to roughly calculate for ourselves how old the world is. However, we don’t need to bother because the Jews have been meticulously counting for us. They don’t need scientists measuring residual radioactivity in rocks and pronouncing the world is billions of years old, the Jews have simply been counting from the time of creation.

When it is Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) in 2021, between the 6th and 8th September, the world will be 5,782 years old (the world was 3,761 years old at the birth of Jesus). Jewish tradition maintains that something very interesting will happen by the year 6,000 as they assign 1,000 years to each of the 6 days of creation and so we will be entering the 7th day – the Sabbath / Day of rest in the year 6,000 with a thousand years of rest before us.

I find that I can’t reconcile the prevailing notion that the world is old and that living creatures evolved with Christianity. It is plain to me that God clearly told us He created the world in 6 days (and rested on the 7th) in numerous places in the Bible. This list of names confirms this. It is plain to me that no animal has ever evolved – they just stay as the same species and they have only had 5,782 years to change anyway. What did angels and demons evolve from? God created them out of nothing and their existence is a fact for all Christians.

Believing in the literal words of the Bible, where they plainly make sense, is the only way for a Christian to live and it doesn’t hamper you in any way at all. I worked as a professional scientist for 30 years and not believing in the fable of evolution didn’t hamper me one bit – because clearly it isn’t true. As Christians we believe in the virgin birth, miracles, angels, demons and resurrection from the dead. Non-believers are already going to think we’re crazy. Christians might as well go all in and believe what God has plainly told them about the Creation of the earth. God doesn’t like cowards. If you believe the world was created billions of years ago by a random big bang and that creatures made themselves through evolution then the God you believe in isn’t big enough. God created and owns everything. He is mighty and awesome beyond our imagination and we should believe He has done what He claims.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the desert. It’s a convenient modern opinion that Jesus didn’t carry out any miracles until after his baptism (when the Holy Spirit descended on him). However, Jesus was entirely filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his conception. It’s really interesting that the Son of God, one person in the Trinity of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is also filled with the Holy Spirit. As John 14:11 also says: ‘Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ so Jesus has the two other members of the Trinity with him. Saint Patrick explained, using the 3 leaved shamrock as a visual aid, the mystery of one God in three persons. “The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is God, one and equal with the Father and the Son, of the same substance and also of the same nature …. Yet he is not called the Spirit of the Father alone,… but the Spirit of both the Father and the Son. (CCC,245). In the creed, we say that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son“.

However, when Jesus came to earth he emptied himself ‘who being on his very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness’ (Philippians 2:6-7). Jesus laid aside any independent desire to act independently of God and performed his miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit. Don Stewart explains that: ‘Jesus emptied Himself in at least three different ways. First, He voluntarily accepted the limitations of being a human being. Second, His glory was hidden from the people. Third, He gave up the independent use of His relative attributes’. (all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere present, etc.). (https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_795.cfm).

Jesus laid aside his godliness in order to demonstrate that any humans can carry out the signs and wonders he did, if we call on the Father in faith-filled prayer and are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days. Then the devil asks him a series of questions all containing the Satanic ‘if‘. Watch out for the Satanic ‘if‘ when people quiz you about your Christian faith. ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread(v.3). The devil already knows that Jesus is the son of God. Jesus doesn’t need to prove anything to him. Jesus has laid aside his godly power and won’t use it for his own advantage. He could call on the Holy Spirit – as we can do – for a miracle but wouldn’t do so just for his own benefit. As believers today, we can call on the Holy Spirit for supernatural gifts of deliverance or healing. We wouldn’t call on the Holy Spirit to help us with bread creation miracles.

Jesus counteracts all the Devil’s evil ‘if’ questions with ‘it is written‘. There is no better spiritual weapon against the devil than quoting the scriptures: ‘Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6:17). That’s why daily Bible study is so important.

In response to the challenge about throwing himself off the temple, Jesus replies ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ (v.12).

I think this summarises whether we should attend church during the Covid-19 crisis. The Catholic churches in our area sensibly closed down and moved services online – even though they are the most dogmatic about it being compulsory to attend Sunday Mass in normal times. However, the evangelical churches kept going and happily ignored the regulations stipulating no singing and no mixing. With over 400 priests and clergy having lost their lives to the virus just in Europe I couldn’t say that I was holier or had more faith than them to survive an attack by the disease (https://www.agensir.it/europa/2020/09/29/400-priests-have-died-from-covid-19-stories-of-heroes-that-helped-everyone-keep-hope-alive/). It seemed like practical common sense to follow the medical advice and to limit exposure to crowds – while trying to support elderly people in the community. Keeping the churches opened did provide people with a valuable source of support and worship but it put pressure on nervous members of the community to attend and caused major friction in large households if the residents had different perceptions of the risk.

It’s interesting that as soon as Jesus started his public ministry he was instantly targeted by the devil. As soon as I had converted and become a confirmed Catholic, I began to get really sick. I lost my memory and my weight plummeted. I really thought I was dying. By the grace of God, my parish priest was a charismatic man of God who prayed a healing / deliverance prayer over me. I could feel the heat from his hands on my head as he prayed. I honestly think that the devil was trying to snuff me out. Nicky Gumbel (167) warns Christians who have invited the Holy Spirit into their lives, that they will have to fend off increased temptations from the devil for a while afterwards.

When we become a light of God on a lampstand for all to see – we become noticeable and a target. Fend off the evil one with the word of God.

Proverbs 7:21-27

Stay away from the adulteress or she will trap you. ‘Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths’ (v.25).

Stay away from temptation. If we have got a problem resisting women, we shouldn’t go to nightclubs. If we have a problem resisting alcohol, we shouldn’t go near pubs or bars or have any booze in our houses. My wife has banned me from bringing chocolate into the house so she doesn’t have to resist temptation throughout the day. I bought a multipack off crisps yesterday and there is just one packet left, which I am going to have for lunch.

‘Her slain are a mighty throng (v.26). ‘Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death’ (v.27).

Once someone has sinned once – it’s easy for it to become a habit. If a married man or woman is chatting you up, you probably aren’t the first person to have enjoyed their adulterous attention. It isn’t a wise choice ‘to be led astray’ (v.1), and taken ‘down to the chamber of death (v.27).

Picture: By Ivan Kramskoi – Google Cultural Center, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38344996

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