Sowing and Reaping / Jesus, ‘The Saviour of the World’: May 5th 2021

Judges 2:6-3:31

The Israelites proved to have a short memory. After their remaining great leaders had died: ‘another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel’ (v.11).

They started to follow the demonic entities that the people around them worshipped and forsook the Lord. In his righteous fury, God handed the Israelites over to raiders who plundered them (v.14). He made sure they were defeated in every battle.

When they were in great distress, groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them, God would raise up a judge to save them from their enemies. God was with the judges while they were alive but each time one died, the Israelites returned to ways even more corrupt that those of their fathers: ‘following other gods and serving and worshipping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways’ (v.19). Our society will be like this as the Covid pandemic recedes. Covid shut down the nightclubs and the pubs where people worshipped alcohol and sex. People stopped spending money on frivolous items at department stores, theoretically freeing up disposable income to give to charity. God heard the cry of the frightened and bereaved and sorted out vaccines. Once we have been delivered, people will rush back to the pubs to corrupt themselves even more than before.

God decided not to drive any more enemy nations from the promised land keeping them in place to constantly test Israel’s loyalty to him. The Israelites failed the test. They intermarried with the pagan nations and served their gods.

The first judge was Othniel, a nephew of the legendary warrior Caleb. ‘The Spirit of the Lord came upon him’ (3:10). He defeated the king of Aram and Israel had peace for 40 years until Othniel died. Notice that the Holy Spirit came upon Othniel and empowered him for this leadership task. How much more are Christians empowered today because we have the Holy Spirit living permanently within us? We just have to co-operate and pray for him to activate his gifts within us.

The Israelites committed evil again and so were handed over to the king of Moab for eighteen years. God gave them a new deliverer, Ehud, who stabbed the evil king with a double-edged sword: ‘I have a message from God for you’ (v.20). The Bible tells us that the word of God is a double-edged sword that we can use to metaphorically stab our enemies. Jesus stabbed Satan with sacred scripture during his temptations in the desert. The Israelites followed their new strong leader into battle and Moab was defeated. Then ‘the land had peace for eighty years’ (v.30).

The Holy Spirit gave certain judges supernatural strength and endurance in battle. The next one, Shamgar, stuck down six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad and saved Israel (v.31).

John 4:27-42

The Samaritan woman went back to her town and said: ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ The Samaritans listened to her and came out of the town to see Jesus. After Jesus’ resurrection, when Mary Magdalene told the weeping and mourning disciples that she had see the risen Jesus, ‘they did not believe it’ (v.11). It is wonderful that Gentile Samaritans were hungrily looking for the Messiah when so many Jews had rejected him. We should tell as many people as we can to ‘come and see’ and invite them to a Spirit filled dynamic church so that their lives can be changed.

Jesus sent us out to preach the gospel to the end of the world. Covid has shut down travel to a great extent but we can still tell people about Jesus via the internet. Greetings to my readers right across the world. Our food is to finish his work and proclaim the saving power of Christ.

Jesus saw the town’s people making their way towards him. ‘Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest’ (v.36). Someone must have previously sown faith in the Samaritans hearts that made them long for the Christ. Jesus, and his disciples, could now harvest these believers for eternal life. So many people taught me different bits of the Bible as I grew up; not least, the Anglican vicar who gave me intensive tuition on Christianity before my wedding in a High Anglican church. We might not see any growth or harvest as we talk to people about Jesus but God’s word will germinate in their hearts allowing others in the future to harvest them into heaven.

Just from the woman’s testimony, many Samaritans believed in him (v.39). The Holy Spirit can give us supernatural words of knowledge about people that can not only convert an individual, they can convert others to Christ through that convert’s powerful testimony. The Samaritans urged Jesus to stay with them. He agreed, stayed for 2 days and many more became believers. Hearing Jesus for themselves strengthened their belief in the woman’s testimony enabling them to declare that he really was the Saviour of the world (v.42).

It must have been so refreshing for Jesus to teach people who wanted him there. This is the kind of refreshment we can enjoy when we attend a faith-filled church or go on a Christian retreat. Sometimes, we all need our batteries charged up with positivity which will give us renewed strength to face more challenging audiences.

Psalm 56:1-13

Even kings can be afraid. When King David was afraid, he chose to trust in God (v.3). If God is for us, what can mortal man do to us (v.4) ?

People watch Christians intently. They conspire as they lurk in the shadows, plotting to twist our words, looking for faults. Many people have fallen for the most basic trap of the devil by rejecting Christianity as nonsense due to the terrible sexual sins carried out by a tiny minority of religious professionals. Yet, they would never withdraw their child from school or not attend hospital despite the thousands of teachers, doctors and nurses that have abused the people entrusted to them.

When David called on God for help he had expectant faith that his enemies would turn back (v.9). He vowed not be afraid of any man because of his trust in God. Christians have vowed our lives to God and we should praise and thank him for his saving grace. Jesus has delivered us from death by his sacrifice on the cross. When we believe and are baptized we can forever walk before God, our Father, in the light of life. The Holy Spirit inside us will stop us from stumbling on our journey. God will deliver us from our enemies, ourselves and from death itself.

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/cereals-corn-stalks-spike-grain-4357683/

The Wedding at Cana / Jesus Clears the Temple: May 1st 2021

Joshua 19:1-21:19

Lots were drawn and the newly conquered territory in the promised land was allocated to the remaining tribes of Israel. The land was split up fairly and efficiently without tribes greedily acquiring more than they needed: ‘The inheritance of the Simeonites was taken from the tribe of Judah, because Judah’s portion was more than they needed (v.9).

After the land had been divided into allotted portions the leader of the Israelites, Joshua, was given the town he had asked for, Timnath Serah (v.50). We need to remember to adequately reward our hard-working leaders and pastors.

The Israelites gave the priestly tribe, the Levites, thirteen towns to live in with pasture-lands for their extensive collection of livestock (21:8,19).

The Israelites founded six cities of refuge to where anyone who had accidentally killed someone could flee before they were killed in a blood vendetta. They could then face a fair trial in regards to the accident. We might be critical about our health and safety culture these days but as least we don’t need six cities to house all those accused of manslaughter. However, we have seen quite a careless attitude towards other people’s health recently. I was a very early adopter of a Covid mask as it made perfect sense to wear one when surgeons always wear a mask whilst operating. It would be manslaughter if we gave someone else fatal Covid just because we selfishly neglected to wear a mask or accept a vaccination. When we pray for our sins to be forgiven we pray both for things we have done and things we haven’t done to care for our fellow citizens.

John 2:1-25

Mary pointed out to Jesus that there was no wine left at the wedding at Cana (v.3). How embarrassing.

Jesus intimated that he was not going to help, ‘My time has not yet come’ (v.4). But Jesus never turns down a valid request for help.

Jesus converted a vast volume of water into the best wine as his first public miracle. The servants had to join in with his miracle by following his instructions exactly. They filled large jars with water to the brim and took some of the new wine out to take to the master of the banquet. They would have looked stupid if it was still water when he tasted it. They took a risk based on Jesus’ word. The master praised the bridegroom for his generosity in providing an abundance of even better wine at the end of the banquet rather than at the start. Rather than being embarrassed in front of his family and friends, the bridegroom’s reputation was enhanced. What a fantastic start to the couple’s married life. We should always invite Jesus to our wedding by holding it in his church. He knows all about marriage. He is the eternal bridegroom to the eternal church.

Christians have an uneasy relationship with alcohol. Many don’t drink at all. This story doesn’t really help as prodigious quantities of the best wine are produced so that people can have a massive celebration. Jesus loved a party. Alcohol is something we just have to keep a very tight rein on. It can easily take over our lives. I don’t tend to have it in the house unless I am holding a dinner party and then I will buy a specific bottle of wine just for that evening. I would never have a wine cellar – I would regard it as a challenge to empty it just as I challenged myself to empty our massive chest freezer full of ancient food during lockdown. There was frozen fish in there that was so old it might actually have been coelacanth. We should always be in control of ourselves and never actually drunk. If I was dining with Pentecostal friends, I would enjoy drinking grape juice with them. We shouldn’t make our guests feel uncomfortable. If I was dining with Catholic friends, I would have a glass of wine if I wasn’t driving. There often comes a time when things get so serious in our lives that we need a completely clear head and a good night’s rest. At these times, it is best not to drink at all. When Jesus was preparing to face the cross, he cleared away frivolous distractions: ‘Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’ (Mark 14:25)

Of course the most marvellous transformation of wine is at the Last Supper when Jesus took the cup, gave thanks and said: ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:27-28). This is repeated at every Holy Mass, when the Holy Spirit changes ordinary wine into the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for all the faithful to drink. This has been wrecked by the Covid pandemic. The days of an entire congregation drinking from the same cup of Holy Blood seem long gone. Each drop contains Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity and so it can’t be put into hundreds of individual containers as traces would be left behind. Maybe this is why the devil allowed Covid to circulate freely to devastate Christian worship and the reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

Through the Holy Spirit working within us we can come up with new prophetic words, new interpretations of God’s word and new miracles. As in this wonderful song, we can pray to Jesus to bring new wine out of us. The best worship songs are serious prayers asking God to change our lives and work through us.

Jesus went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples (v.12). Of course, Jesus didn’t actually have any blood-related brothers. Mary, his mother, stayed a virgin all her life. She had been dedicated to the temple as a virgin by her parents, Joachim and Anne, at a very early age. It was her vocation to be a virgin for the whole of her life. Joseph, ‘her husband’, was an elderly man and had been asked by the temple authorities to be her guardian. Joseph had children by a previous wife and was a widower when engaged to Mary. These ‘brothers’ therefore had neither the same father as Jesus, as he was the son of God, nor the same mother. The world would have considered them as ‘half-brothers’ to Jesus. However, Jacob had twelve sons by 4 different women and they are described as brothers. The word ‘brother’ is often used for ‘half-brother’ in the Bible.

Jesus drove all the merchants out of the temple. It is amazing how many souvenir shops and market stalls congregate around a famous religious shrine. These locations can also attract some interesting characters. When tourists are queuing up outside the Vatican, they have to run the gauntlet of pickpockets who saunter up and down the queue looking for a distracted victim. Kathleen Beckman (p.300-301) warns that we should not linger or stare into the eyes of such people. She was cursed by an evil eye spell outside a cathedral by a woman selling trinkets and became paralysed as she knelt down to pray inside the cathedral. Fortunately, she was with a charismatic priest who prayed a deliverance prayer over her and she instantly recovered. Holy places can attract unholy people.

Jesus prophesied that his body (this temple) would be resurrected three days after he died. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit if we have been born again through baptism.

Jesus was so empowered with the Holy Spirit he knew what was in each person’s heart through supernatural words of knowledge. Most employers don’t bother asking for references any more when interviewing candidates for a job. Many firms are scared of giving a negative reference – for fear they will be sued – and a glowing positive reference could mean that a current employer is trying to offload that particular member of the staff. Jesus was the best ever manager and excelled at recruiting disciples. Of course, Judas turned bad of his own freewill but he must have shown interior promise when Jesus first recruited him. No-one can hide the intentions of their heart from Jesus.

Psalm 54:1-7

King David knew that God was his help and sustained him (v.4). He prayed to God to always hear him, save him and vindicate him.

In many of David’s psalms he asked for serious harm to come to his enemies but David lived in tough times and his life was often in mortal danger. He was often attached by strangers (v.2). We are more likely to be attacked by people we know.

We usually live in less risky circumstances and so it should be easier for us to pray for blessings on our enemies as Jesus commanded.

David had confident faith in God. He pledged to sacrifice to him and praise his good name in the future. God would eventually deliver him from all his foes and all his troubles (v.7).

We need to look back on how God has delivered us in the past to have full confidence in him repeating his saving miracles time after time in our future. God will never leave us or forsake us.

Image: Paolo Veronese, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Reference:

Plague / John the Baptist: March 13th 2021

Leviticus 26:14-27:34

(Lev. 26:14) “But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands”

(Lev. 26:16) “I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life.”

“When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you.” (Lev. 26:25).

Oh dear, this all sounds a bit familiar while facing at least another 3 weeks of Covid lockdowns.

NG (p. 151) comments that the reference to making the ‘sky like iron’ (v.19) could mean that prayers don’t get through to God while our relationship with him is broken. I think a remedy is ‘Praying in tongues (other languages)’. If we have asked the Holy Spirit to dwell fully in us and allow Him to pray to God for us, through our Spirit, than our prayers will get through.

Invite the Holy Spirit fully into your life so that He can pray through you:

“Come Holy Spirit and fill my heart. I invite you fully into my life. Give me a full measure of all of your gifts – particularly the gift of Praying in Tongues. Enkindle in me the power of your love. Send forth your Spirit and let me be recreated, so that you will renew the face of the earth.”

JM (p.199) states that we all must attempt to do what God instructs us to do – to keep his commandments.

However, the extraordinary list of diverse laws in the Old Testament meant that the Israelites were doomed to failure. We are all law breakers. Sometimes we don’t even know what all the laws are. I was nearly run down by somebody recently riding a silent electric scooter down the middle of the road. I knew it was illegal for him to ride it, because I had read this in a newspaper. I don’t know if the rider knew this or just didn’t care. The point being is that nobody can fully comply with an ever-increasing list of laws. We needed Jesus to become sin for us and ransom us by means of his blood, so that our sin (non-compliance with the law) could be forgiven and we could have a childlike relationship with God our father.

Thanks to Jesus, the ‘sky like iron’ has changed to a glorious sunny day.

Luke 1: 1-25

Who wrote the most pages in the New Testament ?

Most people would say Saint Paul. But looking in my NIV, the New Testament is around 286 pages long. Paul wrote 57 pages of these but Luke wrote 72 pages.

Doctor Luke, the only Gentile writer, compiled the largest chunk of the New Testament (the Gospel bearing his name and the Book of Acts) having carried out meticulous research using eye-witness accounts (Luke 1:1).

The first puzzle in this passage is who is the mysterious ‘Theophilus’ that Paul is writing this account for. There are plenty of theories: maybe he was the High Priest, perhaps he was a lawyer or a historian?

Luke stressed what a respectable family John the Baptist comes from (Luke 1:5). Not only was his father a priest but his mother was also descended from the first High Priest, Aaron brother of Moses.

The next puzzle regards alcohol. (Luke 1:15) ‘He (John the Baptist) is never to take wine or other fermented drink’. Why can’t someone especially dedicated to God drink fermented drink ? Is it something to do with the yeast? I drink apple cider vinegar every morning so I would be disqualified. Many people point back to Numbers 6:3 to interpret this reading and propose that John the Baptist was some kind of Nazirite – like Samson (perhaps they are confused by his long hair). However, I prefer Lev.10:8-10 when the Lord said to Aaron: ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die’. John the Baptist was a Levite, the Israelite tribe from which all the priests came, and his role was to make the people ready for the Lord. According to Lev.10:10, wine can inhibit someone from ‘distinguishing between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean’ and from teaching effectively.

Maybe John the Baptist could enter into some kind of ‘Tent of Meeting’ in the wilderness with God to receive assistance and guidance?

In Luke 1:17, he states that John will ‘go on before the Lord, in the Spirit and power of Elijah‘ (see Malachi 3:1 and 4:5). John denied that he was actually ‘Elijah’ (John 1:21) even though Jesus said he was (Matthew 11:14) ‘And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come‘ but he fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy in a spiritual sense. Jesus implies that there can be several different ‘Elijahs’ with John being this specific one. Of course, the original Elijah is still alive (to God) because ‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive (Luke 20:38) and turns up in Luke 9:30 at the Transfiguration: ‘Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus.’

In Luke1:18-20, Zechariah unwisely doubts the Archangel Gabriel and is struck dumb. It is never wise to be rude to an Archangel. There is an interesting contrast between his disrespectful question: ‘How can I be sure of this?‘ and Mary’s question tomorrow: ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?‘ – to which Gabriel could well have answered: ‘Good point!’

Proverbs 7:1-5

Wisdom will keep you away from the adulteress.

Adultery is amazingly common these days – with divorce and remarriage common.

It’s an unpopular fact that if you or your spouse have been married more than once than you are living in a permanent state of adultery, unless it has been proved that any previous marriages were not valid or any previous spouses have died. This can be difficult and painful to unravel but, if people are willing and they speak to a qualified priest about their relationships, it can be sorted out: ‘For with God nothing [is or ever] shall be impossible’ (Luke 1:37).

Of course, God forgives all our sins but we also have to make a conscious effort to turn away from sin and not live in the same sinful way on a daily basis.

After the woman caught in adultery was not stoned (John 8: 3-11) we read: ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go and leave your life of sin.’

Of course, it’s easy for me to say this as I have been happily married for nearly 30 years (thank God) but the world can tempt us with ‘adultery’ even when we are in our own homes doing something innocent. I wanted to read the world news today and clicked on a well known popular news site. The news stories all seemed well researched and informative. However, down the right hand side of the screen, there were dozens of gossipy celebrity news stories involving scantily clad celebrities. It’s common online that some useful information can be set up as bait to allow dubious material to infiltrate our lives. I had to swap to BBC News, which has some other pitfalls but at least it ensures that all its subjects are modestly dressed. That was the wise thing to do.

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