‘But anyone who sins defiantly, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from the people‘ (15:30).
It’s wonderful that we can now confess defiant sins to God and receive absolution thanks to the blood of Jesus. However, we do need to stop sinning. Regularly praying in tongues throughout the day (through the Gift of the Holy Spirit) will build us up, edifying, sanctifying and enabling us to resist temptation.
In verses 32-36, the Israelites caught a ‘sabbath breaker’ gathering wood and he was stoned to death. Many Christians still insist that everyone should still ‘keep the Sabbath’ on Saturdays without remembering how stringent this is. To keep the Sabbath properly, no-one can do any work at all. The Sabbath was a stipulation between God and Israel to stop the Israelites working themselves to death. It is virtually impossible, since the advent of electricity, to keep all the strict requirements of the Sabbath. This is because there is a stipulation not to light any fires on the Sabbath – and this means not driving (due to the sparks involved) or turning on any lights or electrical appliances. We couldn’t even open a fridge – because the interior light will go on. It is thus virtually impossible for anyone in the modern world to completely ‘follow the Sabbath’. We would have to live in a tent in the middle of the desert and leave all our mod-cons behind. We would then probably find one of our children had smuggled their mobile phone with them and we would have to theoretically stone them to death.
Christians worship on the Sunday because it’s the ‘Day of the Lord’ when Jesus was resurrected. We must come together as a community to worship and spend time with God but it’s also a day for us to enjoy, eat together, to rest and relax, to help elderly relatives, to spend time on relaxing pastimes and ‘marital relations’. It’s a day to forget the rat race, the pursuit of money and the other ‘lusts of your own hearts and eyes’ (v.39). God wants us to rest one day in seven for our benefit (and also to remember his creation of the earth). Enjoying a worship filled, family-based and charitable Sunday covers the moral obligation to make one day more special than the other 6 working days. And let’s be honest, with offices opening up on Mondays in most of the Western world Sunday is the 7th day of the week according to the vast majority of the population. Jesus nailed the old requirement to ‘obey the (Saturday) Sabbath’ on the cross. We Christians are new creations and no longer slaves to the Old Testament Law. Jesus said, ‘For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:30). Everyone has a right to go with their own conscience and convictions but I find life a lot less exhausting if I am just obedient. If the leaders of all the major churches and 3 billion Christians are celebrating Jesus’s resurrection on a Sunday, I am am not going to rebel and start my own traditions. I am just going to join the party.
God stipulated blue tassels should be displayed on the corners of everyone’s garments (v.39). Blue is the holy colour (see March 16th). It’s useful to have an object permanently in view to remind us of God’s commands. My wedding ring reminds me not to prostitute myself by going after the lusts of my eyes. People often accuse Catholics as being idol worshippers but pictures and statues in Catholic churches are just reminders – like these blue tassels remind the Jews of God – of the people portrayed in them. Catholics honour a Holy image but the honour rendered to an image passes to the person portrayed in it. If we venerate a picture of Jesus, it’s not the picture itself that is being honoured, the honour passes to Jesus. ‘The honour paid to sacred images is “respectful veneration”, not the adoration due to God alone (CCC, 2132). God stipulated blue tassels on garments to help the Israelites remember him. He also specified a whole collection of Old Testament images from: the staff of Aaron; to the bronze serpent; to the ark of the covenant; the jar of manna within it; the cherubim on top of the ark and a whole host of holy objects. They were to be respected but not adored. Jesus, in becoming incarnate as a visible man, ‘introduced a new “economy” of images (CCC, 2131).
There was then a rebellion. The revels were either swallowed in an earthquake or consumed by fire from the Lord. Moses predicted the earthquake to show that ‘the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea’ (v.28). This is a good lesson in obedience. I am not going to try to overthrow the priesthood and take over. I am going to fully accept and enjoy my layperson role as a spirit-filled evangeliser.
After Jesus had been in the synagogue he ‘went to the home of Simon’ (v.38). Presumably, Simon had been in the synagogue and invited Jesus or did Jesus just turn up, led by the Spirit? I like to think that Simon had listened intently to Jesus in the synagogue, watched him carry out the exorcism and wanted to hear more. When I was a new Christian convert, my wife and I would often invite priests and religious people around for dinner. It is surprising how many Christians shun priests socially. Jesus healed Simon’s (Peter’s) mother-in-law from a high fever. ‘They asked Jesus to help her’ (v.38). So even though Jesus had barely started his ministry, his disciples sensed he could ease suffering. He actually ‘rebuked’ the fever i.e. he spoke to it, which implies that either fevers / bacteria / viruses can hear and respond to authoritative commands or that a demonic spirit was causing the illness. Simon’s mother-in-law instantly recovered from the healing / deliverance and began to wait on them. Jesus didn’t say, ‘ You rest and put your feet up and recover some more’. This lady had been totally healed and so could immediately carry out her full workload to support his ministry. In these day of covid, we would be wary of someone who has just recovered from a high fever serving us. We would want them to stay in a different room or even a different house, while we all wore masks, sanitised all the surfaces and washed our hands. Jesus knew that the problem had entirely gone.
Jesus then healed all who had varied kinds of sickness. He laid hands on them and healed all of them. Some people not only had a sickness, they also had one or more demons in them and so they received both healing and deliverance. Jesus commanded the demons not to speak. It was too early for his cover to be blown and for everyone to know he was the Son of God.
The people in Capernaum don’t want Jesus to leave. He would be a useful insurance in case anyone became ill in the future but he insisted he had to visit other towns as well.
The work of Jesus sounds fantastic and miraculous but, as his death enabled all of us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and become adopted children of God, he is doing nothing we can’t do if we have enough faith. We can teach, heal and deliver through the power of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’s name for God’s glory.
Simon, James and John made a miraculous catch of fish by showing obedience despite tiredness and world-weary low expectations. God loves to astonish us with a miracle when we have been unsuccessful through our own efforts and are feeling low in confidence.
‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ (v.8) says Simon but this tactic doesn’t work. We are all sinners and so no-one would be converted unless God were persistent. He will always call and invite us to love him in return.
The man with leprosy in verse 12 shows faith in Jesus’ ability to heal but isn’t sure of Jesus’ willingness. God is always willing to heal us both physically and spiritually but he sometimes allows the devil / rogue bacteria or viruses to make us ill because he wants good to come out of it,
Despite Jesus’ fame growing, he still makes time to withdraw to lonely places and pray. We need to spend time alone with God without the distractions of noisy crowds. I seem to get most of my inspiration when I am in the bathroom, one of the few places I can be alone and quiet in a family house.
We should just forgive and forget when evil deeds are committed against us. Evil people won’t prosper for ever, they will soon wither. Don’t fret about their temporary successes. Forgiveness enables us to ‘delight ourselves in the Lord’ (v.4) without being bitter and distracted.
We are told to ‘commit your way to the Lord‘ (v.5). It’s a brave prayer to say to God, ‘I don’t know what I should be doing and what path my life should take. Please be absolutely clear God and shut down situations you do not want me to be in and open up new avenues you want me to take, in Jesus name, Amen.’
Expect God to act in a totally unexpected way. For example, God might stop restraining the evil people you work with, who have been champing at the bit for years to persecute a Christian, and you might find yourself engineered out of a company if it’s not where God wants you to be. Don’t fret. Trust God with your future. ‘In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).
If we are patient and trust and hope in the Lord, we will inherit the land and shine like the noonday sun (v.6). God will give us the desires of our heart (v.4) and we can delight in him.
Picture: Cadetgray, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons