An Angel Slays the Assyrians / Hezekiah’s illness / Paul on Malta (Melita): July 10th 2021

2 Kings 19:15-20:21

King Hezekiah of Judah received a threatening letter from the king of Assyria. He spread it out before the Lord at the temple. He prayed to the Lord ‘enthroned between the cherubim’ (2 Kings 19:15). He pointed out that the Assyrians had insulted the living God. They had destroyed false idols and evil kings but they were including the Lord in a list of false deities who had not saved his people. Hezekiah prayed that Israel would be delivered from their hands.

Isaiah sent the reply from God to the Assyrian aggressors. He used the phrase: ‘The Virgin Daughter of Zion’ to introduce it (2 Kings 19:21), which just means ‘Jerusalem’. God is an ever-loving father to the people of Jerusalem despite their continual sinning. Of course, we can look forward to Mary, Mother of God, when a virgin daughter is mentioned and Isaiah also pointed out that the Assyrians were insulting the ‘Holy One of Israel’ – referring to Jesus. Isaiah had a very strong sense of who Jesus was and that, even prior to his incarnation, he was present with his people suffering insults and shame alongside them.  

The Lord said that a remnant of the house of Judah would come out of Jerusalem. There would always be survivors. God would defend Jerusalem against the Assyrians. They would not enter the city. God had promised to preserve the city of David and his own reputation was at stake (2 Kings 19:34).

That night, the angel of the Lord killed a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp (2 Kings 19:35). Angels are capable of mass destruction when God wants them to unless his wrath. Maybe it was the same destroying angel that killed all the first-born in Egypt, but God has millions of powerful angels to choose from. Fallen angels, demons, would like to slaughter all of us but they are constantly restrained by God from doing this.

The king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew to Ninevah. He was later assassinated by his sons, while worshipping his favoured demonic deity. God had shown his power by slaughtering the Assyrian army but the Assyrian king hadn’t been converted. He still refused to turn to him. I don’t envy whoever had to bury all the dead Assyrians. The dead bodies would have been a major public health risk.

King Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. This appears to be blood poisoning as Isaiah eventually prescribed a poultice of figs for his boil (2 Kings 20:7). However, at first Isaiah had prophesied that Hezekiah would die. He would not recover. At this bad news, Hezekiah ‘turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord’ (2 Kings 20:2). He reminded God of how he had been faithful and devoted he had been. He wept bitterly. Hezekiah did not specifically ask to be healed but God immediately decided to grant him mercy. Before Isaiah had even left the palace, God told him to turn around and pronounce that Hezekiah would be allowed to live for another fifteen years and that Jerusalem would be saved from the Assyrians. Prophecies can be swiftly reversed!

Two important concepts are illustrated here: 1) God can change his mind and so it is always worth praying, particularly when we have tried to do what is good in his eyes. 2) God acts through people. God had granted Hezekiah fifteen more years but it still took Isaiah to prescribe a homemade remedy and for servants to make it and apply it. I love a homemade remedy. I have been suffering from a plague of verrucae on one of my feet for years, which are incurable according to medical science. However, God has inspired me to try soaking my feet in apple cider vinegar every day and I have faith that this is working (don’t blame me if you try this and suffer chemical burns / your foot falls off).

Hezekiah had asked for a sign that the Lord would heal him and asked for the shadow to go back up ten steps of the stairway of Ahaz. God has complete control of the stars and the planets and usually allows them to move precisely to defined schedules. However, just as he dispatched a star to illuminate the place of Jesus’ birth, He was happy to mess up the solar system to give Hezekiah the reassurance he sought.

Hezekiah received envoys from Babylon and showed them all the treasures in his kingdom. Isaiah implied that this might not have been the wisest move. Everything the people of Judah had stored up would eventually be carried off to Babylon, along with some of Hezekiah’s descendants. Hezekiah was not particularly alarmed by this as it sounded like he would be spared in his lifetime. We can’t worry too much about the future and how our descendants will interact with God. We have enough to worry about each day to ensure we are ready to meet our maker at what might be very short notice.

Acts 28:1-6

Paul was now safely ashore on the island of Malta but promptly got bitten by a poisonous snake. He lived, much to the islanders’ amazement. Again, I think this shows how much the devil was trying to kill him. Paul had escaped drowning and so now a serpent on land was sent to attack him. There are no vipers today on Malta and so there is a strong biological argument that this island was actually Melita, where a notorious horned viper still resides. Melita is an island in the Adriatic sea, known today as Meleda or Mljet.

If it was indeed Malta, a small colony of poisonous snakes present in Paul’s time may now have become extinct. There are also legends that Paul may have blessed all the snakes on the island causing them to lose their poison or driven them out as Saint Patrick was reputed to have done in Ireland. Jesus had promised that Christians would not be harmed by poisonous snakes (Mark 16:18).

Paul healed the father of the chief official of the island. The man had been suffering from dysentery. Dysentery is caused by God’s creatures being in the wrong place and acting selfishly to survive. The bacteria or amoebae that cause this disease would have had their own beneficial role to perform in the ecosystem of Eden. They may have helped the fertility of the soil or lived symbiotically in our bodies for both species’ mutual benefit but, after the fall of mankind, creation started to malfunction; organisms started to starve and had to spread to new environments or act selfishly to seize food. Some previously benign bugs became killers as they strived to selfishly dominate and seize control of their human hosts. However, they all still respond to the name of their original creator, Jesus Christ.   

Paul was also able to cure all the rest of the sick people on the island who, in return, furnished them with supplies.

Paul eventually arrived in Rome after an arduous journey. He was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Such an open prison did not hinder Paul in spreading the gospel, as he wrote his letters and received visitors. We can safely assume that he would have converted his guards and the gospel message spread throughout the entire imperial guard (Phil.1:13).

Psalm 83:1-18

Our God is the most high over all the earth (Ps.83:18).

We know this through studying God’s word. We can read of his amazing miracles as he rescued his chosen people from Egypt and ensured their survival through the millennia.

Israel will never be destroyed and we are eternally grateful for this because our salvation, in the person of Jesus, has come from the Jews.

Eventually, non-believers will be ashamed and disgraced. They do not acknowledge how gracious God has been to them even while they continued to be sinners.

God continues to call all people to himself. He will run to gather us into his loving arms when we repent, renounce our selfish ways and return to our loving Father.

Image: https://www.europeana.eu/en/item/9200122/BibliographicResource_1000056125479

Elijah is Taken up to Heaven / Youths mauled by Bears / Paul Resurrects Eutychus: June 30th 2021

2 Kings 1:1-2:25

The evil king Ahaziah, of Israel, had suffered a nasty fall and sent messengers to ask a Canaanite deity if he would recover. Even when he was mortally injured, the king refused to turn to the Lord.

The angel of the Lord told Elijah to meet the messengers and prophesy to them that the king would die (2 Kings 1:4). They carried this message to the ailing king who recognised their description of Elijah.

The king had to send three squads of soldiers one after the other to fetch Elijah because fire from heaven consumed the first two squads. When the third squad arrived, its captain begged for his life and the life of his men. An angel told Elijah to go with the soldiers (2 Kings 1:15).

Elijah told Ahaziah his prophecy in person and the king died. He was succeeded by Joram. Ahaziah had no sons to succeed him.

Elisha and the companies of prophets at both Bethel and Jericho all knew that Elijah was about to be taken up to heaven. Elisha refused to leave Elijah’s side and went with him everywhere. Elijah divided the water of the River Jordan by striking it with his rolled-up cloak. The two prophets crossed over on dry ground. Elisha asked to inherit a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9-12).

Suddenly, Elijah and Elisha were separated by a chariot of fire and horses of fire. Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. Elijah’s cloak had fallen to the floor. Elisha picked this up and found that when he struck the River Jordan with it, the river parted as it had done for Elijah. Elisha had been called by Elijah throwing his prophet’s cloak over him (1 Kings 19:19) and now he had inherited this relic through which God was still working. He ‘took up the mantle’ and became an active miracle-working prophet.

The sign of the Jordan dividing demonstrated to the company of prophets that the spirit of Elijah was now resting on his protégé. The company of prophets asked Elisha if they could send a search party of fifty men looking for Elijah. However, Elisha knew that he would not be found on the earth.

God healed the water of the town permanently by Elisha throwing salt into the spring (2 Kings 2:21). As Elisha walked up to Bethel, a gang of youths jeered him for being bald. Elisha called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord and they were mauled by two bears. This wasn’t the New Testament behaviour that we are expected to show, but by disrespecting God’s new prophet, these youths were also insulting God. God also has a thing about hair with Samson’s strength being linked to hair, people taking on Nazirite vows and letting their hair grow in dedication to God and God counting all the hairs of our head. The youths came from Bethel, which was a centre for idolatrous worship. This was the first clash between the new servant of God and the servants of Satan. Elisha was replicating the works of Joshua by crossing the Jordan on dry land. God had sent hornets after idol worshippers in Joshua’s day. Now he used bears.

Elisha would prove himself to be a great prophet. He had asked Elijah if he could inherit a double portion of his spirit (2 Kings 2:9), symbolically becoming his first-born spiritual son, and Elisha would go on to do twice the number of documented miracles.

Acts 20:1-38

Luke wrote down in detail where Paul had travelled. Paul was flexible with his travel arrangements, deciding to travel back through Macedonia when he heard there was a plot against him.

Paul had boundless energy for preaching the gospel and encouraging people. One night, he preached until midnight. A young man, Eutychus, fell asleep as Paul talked and fell to the ground through a third-floor window. He was dead. Paul interrupted his preaching to throw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. He declared that Eutychus was alive (Acts 20:11) with the same confidence that Jesus had when he raised the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:52). The people took the recovered Eutychus home and were greatly comforted. I feel that I was dead to the Gospel for many years having first fallen asleep while people were trying to preach it to me. If we remain asleep all our lives to the gospel, we will slip into spiritual death. However, Jesus is always willing to throw himself on us, wrap his arms around us and declare us to be alive when we believe in him.

Paul had faithfully preached that everyone must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Jesus (Acts 20:21). The Spirit compelled him to travel and warned him that prison and hardships were awaiting him. However, Paul didn’t care about his own comfort, he wanted to complete the task that Jesus had given him – testifying to the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24).

Paul instructed the elders to be shepherds over the church of God and to watch over their flock. Jesus has bought the church with his own blood. Paul predicted that some Christians would distort the truth to draw disciples after them (Acts 20:30).

Paul had supplied his own needs, the needs of his companions and helped the weak by working hard as a tentmaker while he preached. He had not coveted other people’s belongings. He modelled his generosity on that of Jesus who also had a trade as a carpenter to earn his own resources (Acts 20:35).

The Ephesian elders wept as they embraced Paul and said goodbye to him. Paul had prophesied that they would never see him again. It is heart wrenching when Christian brothers and sisters leave a Spirit-filled church. I only began to feel this fully when I started to attend a Pentecostal church where it is so easy for brothers and sisters in Christ to become friends for life.

Psalm 78:40-55

The Israelites rebelled against God repeatedly in the desert despite the ten plagues he had inflicted on the Egyptians (Ps.78:40). He safely led them like a shepherd.

He drove out nations before them and settled them in the Holy Land as their inheritance.

As we are adopted children of God by our belief in Jesus and our baptism, God can perform these same types of miracles for us.

We all deserved God’s wrath, indignation and hostility because of our constant rebellions until Jesus made us at peace with our Father through his death on the cross.

Image: Giuseppe Angeli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Elijah on Mount Carmel / The Call of Elisha / Paul in Corinth: June 27th 2021

1 Kings 18:16-19:21

Odadiah trusted that Elijah would not run away and informed evil king Ahab that Elijah wished to see him. Ahab greeted the long-lost prophet with an insult (1 Kings 18:17).

Elijah denied being a troublemaker. It was Ahab and his father’s family who had abandoned the Lord’s commands and followed Canaanite fertility gods. Elijah demanded that the prophets of these ‘gods’ should be assembled and brought to him along with the people from all over Israel. There was going to be an epic showdown.

Elijah challenged the assembly of Israel. If the Lord is God, as he had proved time and time again rescuing the Israelites, then they should follow him. If Baal, the Canaanite deity, proved himself to be God then they should follow him. They should stop wavering (1 Kings 18:21). But the people said nothing. We can set this challenge to thousands of people today. They waver about following God and doubt his actual existence, choosing to worship themselves and created items instead. God doesn’t like lukewarm waverers. He wants fully committed believers with faith.

Ahab assembled the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elijah took charge of the proceedings. He asked for two bulls. The prophets of Baal could choose one, cut it into pieces and put it on wood but not set fire to it. Elijah would do the same. The prophets would call on the name of Baal. Elijah would call on the name of the Lord and they would see who answered by fire.

The Baal prophets went first, they prepared the bull and shouted for Baal from morning until noon, dancing around the altar. Elijah started to taunt them (1 Kings 18:27). The prophets slashed themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed. Blood is the universal currency in the spiritual realm. Demonic entities want payment in blood. We were saved by the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. There was no response to their frantic prophesying or their bloodletting.

It was now Elijah’s turn. He told the Israelites to ‘Come here to me’ (1 Kings 18:30). He repaired a ruined altar of the Lord using 12 stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel. He dug a trench around it. He arranged the firewood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he told the Israelites to pour water all over the sacrifice, the wood and completely fill the trench. It would have been far too easy for God to set fire to dry wood. God loves a challenge. He wanted to prove that no natural force could have achieved the same victory; just as God had whittled Gideon’s fighting men down to a fraction of their strength before winning an impossible battle (Judges 7:8).

Elijah prayed to God to demonstrate that he was God over Israel and that Elijah was his prophet. Fire came down from heaven and not only burned up the sacrifice and the wood, but it also consumed the stones, the soil and licked up all the water in the trench (1 Kings 18:38). This was not just a stray spark. This was fire of the Lord. The people fell prostate and turned to God (1 Kings 18:39). Elijah then had the prophets of Baal seized and slaughtered.

Elijah told King Ahab to leave the mountain as heavy rain was approaching (after the three-year drought). Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel but didn’t look out for clouds himself. He asked his servant to do this seven times. Meanwhile, Elijah had bent down with his face between his knees. The seventh time that Elijah’s servant looked, a small cloud had appeared. This heralded heavy rain.

Elijah, with the power of the Lord upon him, was able to run faster than Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel. Our Pastor tells a story of a missionary in Africa who had to stay up all night because the local witch doctor had said he would come to kidnap the missionary’s son to kill him and eat him. In the middle of the night, the witch doctor passed through the locked front door – using his occult power – to find the missionary waiting for him. The witch doctor ran off at high speed, bounding across fields with giant strides due to demonic assistance. The missionary, to his great surprise, was able to keep close behind him throughout a high-speed chase until he had chased the witch doctor far away. The next morning, the witch doctor knocked on the missionary’s door, apologised and handed over his books of spells. He now knew that the Lord is the true God because when the missionary pursued him, he had felt fire coming from the missionary burning his back. The Holy Spirit can allow his servants to move extremely fast when He wants us to.

Elijah ran away from Ahab’s terrifyingly evil wife, Jezebel, and ended up in the desert. Even after his great triumph at Carmel, he was depressed and despondent (1 Kings 19:4). God send an angel to feed him until he had the strength to travel for forty days and nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

God asked Elijah what he was doing in a cave on the mountain. God told him to stand out on the mountain as he passed by. There was a great wind, then an earthquake, then a fire until finally God showed up as a gentle whisper. God told Elijah who to anoint (1 Kings 19:15-16) and reassured Elijah that he was not by himself. God had kept seven thousand faithful people in Israel (1 Kings 19:18).

Elijah went and found his successor, Elisha. Elijah claimed Elisha for the Lord by throwing his cloak over him. This did not put Elisha off, who slaughtered his oxen and cooked them on his ploughing equipment. This signified that Elisha was fully committing himself to his new life as a prophet.

Acts 17:22-18:8

Paul stood up the aristocratic council of Athens, the Areopagus, and skilfully told them that they were already worshipping God as they had an altar inscribed: ‘To an unknown God’. Paul was there to tell them all about him.  

God, who made everything, does not live in temples. He does not need us to serve him, because everything belongs to him already. From one man, Adam, he made every nation of man. God made us so that we ‘would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us’ (Acts 17:27). We are his offspring, ‘for in him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).

As we are God’s offspring, God must be a living being like us and not an image made of gold, silver or stone crafted by man. Paul said that God would not overlook the ignorance of worshipping idols any longer and commanded everyone to repent. God has set a day for us all to be judged by the man he has appointed and raised from the dead. Paul converted a few members of the council with his speech but some sneered at the concept of the resurrection of the dead.

Paul went to live with fellow tent-makers Aquila and Priscilla. They were Jews who had been expelled from Rome, along with all the others, by the emperor Claudius. Paul was joined by Silas and Timothy and devoted himself to preaching. When the Jews opposed him, Paul shook out his clothes in protest and turned to the Gentiles with a clear conscience (Acts 18:6). We have to move on to more fertile ground if people refuse to be saved. However, Paul had made some noteworthy converts including Crispus, the synagogue ruler and his entire family.

Psalm 78:17-31

God fed the Israelites in the desert with ‘the bread of angels’ despite their constant disobedience and disrespect. Jesus gives us the bread of life when we believe in him and ask him to come into our lives as our personal Saviour.

The Israelites were given water to drink in the desert, gushing from a rock. When we ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle his fire within us, we will have streams of living water flowing from us bringing refreshment and healing to those in their own personal wildernesses.

We can be thankful that God our Father gracefully fed and prospered us when we sinned and rebelled long before coming to Christ due to his love for us.

He gives us more than enough and we should never doubt his providence or wilfully put him to the test. I will always trust in him and his deliverance.

Image: Gmihail at Serbian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 RS https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/rs/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

Solomon asks for Wisdom / Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison: June 17th 2021

Kings 2:13-3:15

David’s son, Adonijah, had been outmanoeuvred in his attempt to become king of Israel. David had ensured that his younger son, Solomon, would succeed him.

Solomon would only let his elder brother live if he proved himself to be a worthy man (1 Kings 1:52) and so Adonijah should have led a quiet, respectable life. However, lust was his undoing as it had been for his father.

Adonijah went to Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, and asked a favour. He wanted her to ask her son, King Solomon, if he could take the deceased King David’s beautiful, virgin, bedwarmer (Abishag) as his wife.

This was a terrible mistake. Solomon was infuriated by this disrespectful request. He probably also had his eye on Abishag. Adonijah was one of his elder brothers and so had a valid claim on the throne. If Solomon gave him a woman whom David had spent most of this time with during his dotage, this would make him even more of a threat (1 Kings 2:22).

Solomon had inherited Benaiah as captain of his bodyguards and he ordered him to kill Adonijah. It was then time to deal with the rest of Adonijah’s allies. Solomon sent Abiathar the priest back to his fields, removing him from the priesthood. Solomon told him that he deserved to die for conspiring against him but Abiathar had been loyal to King David and ‘shared all my father’s hardships’ (1 Kings 2:26).

Solomon then had to deal with Joab, the ruthless commander of the army. Joab had fled to the tent of the Lord, after hearing about Adonijah and Abiathar, and was beside the altar seeking sanctuary. Solomon did not grant him mercy and ordered him to be killed there for his crimes (the murders of Abner, Amasa and his conspiracy to oust David from the throne during his last days). Joab had also disobediently killed David’s other rebelling son, Absalom, despite explicit instructions from David that he shouldn’t be harmed. On the other hand, Joab had fought valiantly for David on many occasions as chief of the army. He could have been retired to somewhere harmless for his generally loyal support to David but he was an extremely dangerous man and Solomon wanted to secure his throne.

Solomon did give the disrespectful Shimei a chance. He told him to stay in Jerusalem or he would be executed. Three years later, Shimei left the city briefly to retrieve two runaway slaves. This was the excuse Solomon needed to have him killed and his kingdom was now firmly established (1 Kings 2:46).

There are some interesting principles at work here. When Adonijah desired Abishag, he asked Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, to intercede for him on the grounds that he would not refuse her. She even instructed her son the king not to refuse her (1 Kings 2:20). Christians in the Mother Church pray today to the Blessed Virgin Mary asking her to intercede for them, for her to talk to her son, Jesus Christ, in order to get their prayer requests to the top of the queue. They want her to use her influence over her son. This can be extremely effective. However, it has got to be a godly request that fully complies with all principles in the Bible. Solomon refused the request from his brother even though it had been mediated through his mother because it put his own rule at risk. God gives us what we need not necessarily what we desire – particularly if those desires are harmful.

Solomon had tidied up all the unfinished business of King David and had extended mercy to Abiathar the priest and Shimei. However, he was not going to put up with disobedience and so Shimei eventually provoked his own execution. I feel slightly sorry for Joab, who had fought valiantly for his uncle David. Two of Joab’s killings (Abner and Absalom) had tidied up problems for David. However, Joab was a dangerous individual prone to disobedience. Solomon wanted no responsibility for the murders that Joab had committed (1 Kings 2:33). If we live by the sword, we die by the sword. Just as Joab had been the hatchet man for King David, Solomon now had Benaiah to do his dirty work for him.

Solomon started to make political alliances. He married an Egyptian princess. Because a temple had not yet been built, the Israelites were still sacrificing at the high places. The Israelites had been instructed to destroy all the high places where the Canaanites had worshipped their gods (Num.33:52 and Deut.12:2-6). The Israelites at the start of Solomon’s reign seemed to be blending religions by using the traditional Canaanite worship sites for the worship of our one true God. ‘The Lord’ appeared to Solomon in a dream, where he had travelled to offer sacrifices at the most important high place and said: ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you’ (1 Kings 3:5). As no-one can see the face of God and live, this must have been Jesus appearing to Solomon and conversing with him – yet another Christophany.

Solomon was already wise for a young man but he asked for even more wisdom in order to be a just leader (1 Kings 3:9). Jesus was delighted that Solomon had not asked for long life, wealth or the death of his enemies and so he gave him the wisest and most discerning heart of any man ever and also gave him riches and honour. If he walked in God’s ways and obeyed his statutes and commands, he would also have a long life (1 King 3:12-14).

Solomon realised that his dream had been life changing. He now had the confidence to stand in front of the ark of the covenant and make sacrifices to God. He then gave a feast for all his court. When we know that God has broken into our lives and spoken to our hearts, we can’t help but celebrate.

Acts 11:19-12:19a

Disciples, other than Peter, had also started to convert Gentiles. Some disciples had travelled to Antioch, where Greeks then became believers and turned to the Lord.

The disciples sent Barnabas to encourage the new believers to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts (Acts 11:23). Barnabas went to fetch Saul from Tarsus and brought him to Antioch, where they both preached for a year. This is where believers first became known as ‘Christians’.

A Christian prophet stated there would be a severe famine over the entire Roman world. The disciples were happy to send monetary assistance to their brothers living in Judea. To a Christian, excess money is best used to help other people.

The wicked King Herod put James, the brother of John, to death. As this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too. As Peter was detained in the Jerusalem prison, the church ‘earnestly’ prayed for him. Even through Peter was under close guard, he was rescued by an angel in the night (Acts 12:7). Peter had to get up and follow the angels’ instructions to escape.

It must have strengthened Peter’s faith to know that God supported his mission (Acts 12:11). If we as a church really want something to happen we have to put effort into our praying. God answered the fledgling church’s earnest prayers.

Peter fled to the house of John Mark’s mother. This John Mark was the Mark who wrote the second gospel.

A servant girl heard Peter’s voice outside the door but other people in the house did not believe her. It seemed impossible for Peter to escape and they said, ‘It must be his angel’ (Acts 12:15). The Jews held the same tradition as Christians that each one of us is assigned a Guardian Angel at the time we are conceived. However, the Jews also believed that a Guardian angel looked identical to the person they were protecting and evidently also sounded the same.

The disciples eventually opened the door and were astonished to see the real Peter. Peter asked them to pass his story onto James and the other brothers and then left to hide from Herod in a less obvious location.

Herod could not find Peter in the morning. He was not lenient on the guards who had failed to retain him (Acts 12:19). This story shows how much of a threat Herod thought Peter was. Herod had no intention of allowing Peter to be rescued. Peter had been chained and made to sleep between two soldiers with sentries on guard at the entrance. Some pastors say that God does not intervene directly after Jesus died and relies on human beings to do his work for us. The disciples did earnestly pray for Peter’s release but it was no human who came to his rescue. God had demonstrated he was willing to deploy angelic assistance to save the apostles when there was no other alternative.

Proverbs 15:1-10

Our tongue is the most powerful organ in our body. We can protect ourselves with our tongue (Prov.15:1). We can praise, spread knowledge and bring healing with our tongue.

A wicked tongue stirs up anger and gushes folly. A deceitful one crushes the spirit.

God is pleased with the prayers of the upright. He loves those who pursue righteousness (Prov.15:9) and will fill their house with great treasure. He detests the ways and sacrifices of the wicked. Their income will bring them trouble.

We should prudently listen to valid criticism as it may keep us alive. We cannot escape from God; he is everywhere and in everything. His eyes are everywhere. No sin is ever secret. He keeps watch on the wicked and the good (Prov.15:3).

Image: By Bartolomé Esteban Murillo – http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/tmplobs/T0W0Q86QNMP6XMQX2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9639644

Death of King David / Peter Baptizes Cornelius: June 16th 2021

1 Kings 1:1-2:12

King David was now old and so his servants found a beautiful virgin girl, Abishag, to wait on him and keep him warm in bed. The king did not have sexual relations with her.

Adonijah, another one of David’s wayward, handsome sons started to set himself up as the next king. He gained the support of Joab, which is unusual as Joab was usually very politically astute. Abiathar the priest also supported Adonijah.

Adonijah invited the royal officials and all the other sons of the king, apart from Solomon, to a gathering where he made sacrifices intending to be appointed as king.

Nathan the prophet went to warn Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, that both her and Solomon’s lives were in danger if she did not act fast. Adonijah was likely to execute threats to his throne if he succeeded in taking over.

Bathsheba and Nathan informed King David that Adonijah was in the process of setting himself up as king.

King David confirmed his solemn oath to Bathsheba that Solomon would become king.

David promptly abdicated telling Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet to anoint Solomon as king over both Israel and Judah and set him on his throne.

Adonijah was terrified at this news. His guests rose in alarm and dispersed and Adonijah sought sanctuary by holding onto the horns of the altar. Solomon allowed him to live and go home as long as he proved himself to be a worthy man (1 Kings 1:52).

David instructed Solomon on how to be a good king. He should be ‘strong, show yourself a man and observe what the Lord your God requires’ (1 Kings 2:2-3).

It was vital that Solomon should keep all the requirements in the Law of Moses so that he would prosper and his descendants would always retain the throne.

David told Solomon the crimes of Joab and Shimei and advised him to deal with them according to his wisdom. He asked Solomon to respect the loyalty that the sons of Barzillai of Gilead had shown him.

David then died after forty years on the throne and was buried in ‘The City of David’ (1 Kings 2:10). There is no clear consensus in modern times as to where David’s tomb is. Some think it is in Jerusalem but this would have been stated clearly. To me, ‘The City of David’ is Bethlehem (Luke 2:4). One 4th century traveller found a vault in Bethlehem reputed to contain the tombs of David, Ezekiel, Jesse, Solomon, Job and Asaph with these names carved into the tomb walls (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David%27s_Tomb). 1 Kings 3:1 clearly shows that the ‘City of David’ is not Jerusalem.

Not many people have led a life as extraordinary as David’s. Plucked from obscurity, an overlooked youngest child tending the sheep, he was anointed as the successor to the first King of Israel. As a young boy he defeated a formidable giant dressed in scale armour, showing how he would stand up for God’s people against the forces of evil. He was an amazingly brave and a ferocious fighter who won and retained the loyalty of the nation of Judah.

David showed himself to be a strong man, rather too strong in his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. David had serious faults but he was quick to apologise to God. He loved truth, loyalty and integrity. He refused to kill Saul, the Lord’s anointed king. He was quick to forgive and didn’t want his son Absalom harmed even when he had almost usurped David as king. He longed to build a permanent temple for God but he had soiled his hands with too much blood. Above all, God communicated with him and David listened making him one of the foremost prophets and author of so many awesome psalms. Above all, David was a man after God’s own heart and that is what we should try to emulate (Acts 13:22).

Like David, we should do everything that God wants us to do.

Acts 10:32b-11:18

Peter travelled to see Cornelius, the Roman Centurion who had called for him. Peter took backup with him, some of the brothers from Joppa. Cornelius had gathered together his relatives and close friends to meet them. It is wonderful to read about such excitement and anticipation. We should feel this whenever we go to church and pastors / priests should be working to promote this by allowing the Holy Spirit to work freely and unpredictably in any church gatherings.

Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet in reverence but Peter made him get up (Acts 10:26). It is only God that we worship. Everyone else, including angels, are fellow servants of God and we should treat them like friends and comrades, not masters (Revelation 22:8-9).

It was against the law for Peter to associate with or visit any Gentile but God in a vision had showed him not to call any man impure or unclean (Acts 10:28). God’s laws trump human and religious laws.

Peter had realised that God does not show favouritism for one nation over another. God ‘accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right’ (Acts 10:35). Peter preached about Jesus’ ministry (Acts 10:38). Peter declared he was a witness of everything that Jesus did.

Mankind had been at war with God because of our disobedience and sin but, through Jesus, those who believe now have peace with our heavenly father (Acts 10:36).

As Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the gospel message and they started speaking in tongues and praising God. This astonished the Jews who had travelled with Peter (Acts 10:45-46). The unbaptized, Gentile believers had been given the Holy Spirit. This flies in the face of modern theology, which states that people always receive the Holy Spirit when they are baptized. Many people just receive a tiny mustard seed of the Holy Spirit and never do anything with it so it doesn’t fully grow / develop / burst into flames of faith. However, the Holy Spirit cannot be confined to rules and doctrines. He is God and can do what he wants, when he wants. In this particular circumstance, the coming of the Holy Spirit was the catalyst that pushed Peter into baptising these converts. Peter might not have had the confidence to do this, if the evidence of speaking in tongues had not confirmed that they obeyed God and believed in him (Acts 10:47-48).

Peter ordered that Cornelius and his household should be baptized and they then asked Peter to remain with them for a few days. How wonderful it must have been for them to have the head of the new church, the first pope, the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to stay with them and tell them his extraordinary testimony.

This amazing event opened up Christianity to non-Jews around the globe. I am a Christian thanks to Cornelius inviting Peter to visit him.

Peter then had to explain his actions to the rest of the church. He told the circumcised believers about his vision and how the Spirit had instructed him to visit, after Cornelius had been visited by an angel. The Holy Spirit had promised that Peter would bring him ‘a message through which you and all your household will be saved’ (Acts 10:14). All Christians are now commissioned to bring this same message to other people.

This is a good example of predestination. God had looked into the future and seen Cornelius becoming a Christian when he heard Peter’s message and so he gave sufficient grace to Cornelius earlier in his life to be a Godly person with a desire to seek salvation. God knew he would respond to the angel’s instruction to call for Peter.

Peter described how the Holy Spirit had come on the Gentiles as he had begun to speak ‘as he had come on us at the beginning’ (Acts 11:15). ‘The beginning’ must mean the day of Pentecost, the beginning of the Christian church.

God had baptised these believers with the Holy Spirit ahead of them being baptized with water (Acts 11:16).

The other apostles in Jerusalem accepted Peter’s testimony and praised God.

Peter’s perfect logic was ‘So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God’ (Acts 11:17). It is wonderful that the apostles were not jealous in any way of the new believers, unlike the Pharisees and the Chief Priests who had persecuted Jesus because they had wanted to retain power and status.

The apostles summarised this latest revelation: ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’ (Acts 11:18). The phrase ‘even the Gentiles’ shows how revolutionary this message was. From this event we can see some keys principles of accepting the gift of eternal life. We have to repent. We have to accept the message about Jesus Christ and believe in him so that we will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have to be baptized.

Speaking in Tongues is a great way of bringing different people groups and denominations together. It proves we obey God and believe in Christ. Nicky Gumbel (p.350) saw that he could not withhold the Protestant Alpha course from Catholics, when at the first Catholic Alpha course he witnessed all the Catholics praying in tongues, the same supernatural gift that had been given to his Protestant converts. Similarly, I visited my local Pentecostal church as a Charismatic Catholic and witnessed my new Protestant friends exhibiting the same gifts I had. The gifts of the Holy Spirit make us realise we are all one big church family and we should work together and love each other for the glory of God.

Psalm 74:10-17

The Psalmist still did not understand why God was holding back his hand but God always has very good reasons for any delays. He will eventually bring justice to those who have mocked and reviled him.

God brings salvation upon the earth ultimately through Jesus Christ’s death once and for all on the cross.

God is all powerful. He owns the day and the night and established the sun and the moon. He made both summer and winter. Winter has its own beauty but the harsher aspects of it help us appreciate the summer periods of our lives.

God can split open the sea, crush the heads of seas monsters and dry up ever-flowing rivers. Praise the Lord that we have been reconciled to him and received the everlasting gift of peace with our awesome Father through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ideacreamanuela2/5585080402

God Sends Plague / Peter Resuscitates Tabitha: June 15th 2021

2 Samuel 23:8-24:25

David was an incredible fighter. He also had three ‘mighty men’ in his army who were renowned for their fighting prowess. One of them, Josheb-Basshebeth, had killed eight hundred men with a spear in one battle. They were prepared to stand their ground and fight hordes of the enemy even when their fellow comrades had fled in fear

Kings have to be careful what they say in the earshot of particularly loyal subjects. David once rashly said during a war with the Philistines: ‘Oh that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!’ (2 Sam.23:15). The three mighty men fought their way through Philistine battle lines to fetch it for him. David was horrified at the risks they had taken and wouldn’t drink it. This reminds me of when David wept for his dead son Absalom, disgracing his army who had risked their lives to defend his sovereignty. I personally think he should have been grateful for their efforts, drank the water and vowed not to be so irresponsible in the future. It’s probably not a good idea to disrespect men who can kill hundreds of soldiers in one battle.

Abishai, the brother of the army commander Joab, was chief of the three mighty men and had killed three hundred men in one skirmish. Both he and Joab were nephews of King David. Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant fighter and and as famous as the three mighty men. He was put in charge of David’s bodyguard due to his great exploits. There were another thirty men in David’s personal army who were also renowned for their skill in battle and bravery.

In every thriving church there are usually two or three mighty men or women who greatly assist the pastor / priest in running the parish. We shouldn’t just take from our church community, we should seek to give and to donate our time, money and talents. Even if we don’t have time to be one of the three most renowned mighty men or women in our church we can loyally strive to be in the top thirty and hope for promotion to more responsibility.

God incited David to take a census of Israel and Judah and he entrusted this task to Joab (2 Sam.24:2). However, later in the Bible it said that Satan incited David to do this (1 Chron.21:1). However, Satan is not allowed to do anything without God’s mysterious permission and so they might have discussed putting David through a trial of his faith just as God permitted Satan to persecute Job (Job 1:12).

David’s army commander, Joab, was reluctant to conduct the census. Joab was cunning and ruthless and he could see that this would result in trouble, However, David over-ruled him. The census took nine months and twenty days. The count showed that Israel had many more fighting men than Judah (2 Sam.24:9).

David was then conscience stricken and realised he had done a very foolish thing. He confessed to God and asked for his guilt to be removed (2 Sam.24:10). He should have said to God: ‘I don’t need to count my soldiers because I rely on you for victory. You will win the battle for me no matter how great the opposition’. By counting the troops, it appeared that he intended to rely on his own military might rather than trust in God to deliver him.

God spoke to David through the prophet Gad and said there were three options as to how God should punish him for his lack of trust: three years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies or three days of plague. David left it up to the mercy of God as long as he did not ‘fall into the hands of men’ (2 Sam.24:14).

The Lord chose to send plague on Israel from that very morning and seventy thousand people died. When the angel striking down the people with plague was just about to strike Jerusalem, God stopped him. ‘God was grieved because of the calamity’ (2 Sam.24:16). David could actually see the plague angel at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and said to God that he personally should be punished, rather than his subjects who were but sheep. David showed himself to be a good shepherd, prepared to die for his flock.

The prophet Gad told David to build an altar where the plague angel had stopped. David insisted on buying the threshing floor and oxen from Araunah, even though they were offered to him for free. David built the altar and sacrificed to the Lord, who then answered prayer on behalf of the land. The plague in Israel was stopped.

This is a very strange story. God was very angry at Israel for an undefined reason. He incited David to take a census or got Satan to do it and then offered a choice of three different punishments when the census was eventually completed. The only person who had immediately spotted this would not turn out well was David’s cunning and murderous army commander nephew, Joab.

If David had chosen to be pursued around the country for three months – which was one of the punishment options offered by God – that would probably have saved a lot of lives. However, in the end, David came out well offering him (and his family) as a sacrifice in place of his subjects. David proved himself to be a good shepherd offering himself up for his sheep.

It’s a troublesome passage because I have heard Pastors say that God never brings disease – that’s the work of the devil. This text clearly shows that God brought this plague and an angel (not a demon) actively inflicted it. However, even when the devil does bring a disease (or incite someone to carry out an illicit census), God has allowed him to do it which is the same as doing it himself. Nothing happens in heaven or earth without God’s permission. He is all powerful. It’s all very mysterious but as God owns everything, has positive reasons for everything that happens and has good long-term plans, we just have to trust in his justice, wisdom and mercy. He is our refuge and our strength and will answer if we cry out to him.

Acts 9:32-10:23a

Peter prayed for a paralytic to be healed: ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and tidy up your mat’. This can be a model for our healing prayers. Jesus has the power and authority to heal, not us, and so we pray in his name. Peter’s command showed total faith in Jesus. The paralytic man had to choose to move in faith to grab his chance of being healed. He chose to get up immediately. This healing echoed Jesus healing a long-time invalid with a direct command (John 5:8).

Peter then went to bring a disciple named Tabitha back to life. He sent all the crying widows, who Tabitha had helped in her lifetime, out of her room and got down on his knees to pray before commanding her to get up. Jesus had resurrected a little girl with the words ‘Talitha koum!’ (Which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!)’ (Mark 5:41-42). Before Jesus did this he had put all the people who were weeping and wailing out of the room. We should also pray in an atmosphere of peace, not surrounded by distress, despair and unbelief.

A Roman centurion, Cornelius, then sent for Peter. Even though he was not a Jew, Cornelius (and his family) had a wonderful reputation for being devout, God-fearing and charitable (Acts 10:2). Cornelius had seen a vision of an angel about three in the afternoon. Three o’clock in the afternoon is a great time for a vision as it is the holy time when Jesus died. Conversely, three o’clock in the morning isn’t a holy time of day. If we wake up with a nightmare at three o’clock in the morning, the thoughts in our mind are likely to have come from the demonic dark side and we should pray until we regain peace. Even though Cornelius was a Roman Gentile the angel gave him fascinating news: ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God’ (Acts 10:4). This shows that people’s good needs and prayers can eventually attract God’s attention even before they are Christians.

Meanwhile, Peter had a vision in which God had said: ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’ (Acts 10:15). As he was wondering about the meaning of this vision, the men sent by Cornelius to fetch him arrived and the Holy Spirit told him to go with them: ‘For I have sent them’ (Acts 10:20).

The Holy Spirit was orchestrating Peter’s daily ministry. The Spirit had been with Cornelius for years until he now inspired him to send for Peter who would lead him, and his family to salvation. Cornelius would demonstrate to the disciples that you didn’t have to become a Jew first before you became a Christian. The Spirit also worked on Peter to ensure he would answer the call. Jesus said it was for our own good that he was going away because then the Holy Spirit would come to us. The Holy Spirit can work on everyone at the same time. When Jesus was incarnate, he could only be in one place at the same time (John 16:7). As born-again baptized Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living within us leading us to the truth and transforming us into the likeness of Christ.

Psalm 74:1-9

The Psalmist called on God to remember his people. They were living in ruins and their enemies had destroyed God’s sanctuaries. No-one knew who long their agony would last as no prophets were left (Psalm 74:9).

We know that God continued to send leaders and prophets to rescue Israel but they were rejected and persecuted.

The great John the Baptist straddled the divide between the Old and New Testament and prophesied the arrival of our Saviour.

When we can’t feel God’s presence and guidance in our lives, we need to continue to pray. Praying in the Spirit is the ultimate reassurance that God is with us, working within us and through us and will never leave us.

God offered the ultimate gift to all who have faith and belief. He offered to the entire world eternal salvation through the sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus Christ.

Image: Jules & Jenny from Lincoln, UK, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Absalom Returns / Peter Heals with his Shadow: June 9th 2021

2 Samuel 14:1-15:12

King David’s heart longed for his estranged son, Absalom, just as God hopes and contrives for banished people to come back to him from exile (2 Sam.14:14).

Joab hired a wise woman to persuade King David to invite Absalom back from exile. David wisely saw he was being manipulated by Joab but gave in to the suggestion (2 Sam.14:21).

Joab brought Absalom back to Jerusalem but he was not allowed to see his father King David.

Absalom was very good looking, with not a single blemish, with thick luxuriant hair. He had three sons and a daughter and named his daughter Tamar after his sister.

Absalom did not see the king for two years. Joab refused to come to him until Absalom took the drastic step of setting Joab’s field on fire. Absalom demanded to see the king as he was living in limbo. He wanted to face up to any punishment. Then the king summoned his son, who bowed down before him, and the king welcomed him with a kiss (2 Sam. 14:33). We can live in a similar king of non-living limbo when we have not confessed our sins to God and received forgiveness. We might think our sins are too severe to forgive but God is always calling us to him and he will forgive us with a warm embrace.

Even though Absalom had been welcomed home, he started to conspire against his father the king. He woke up early and stood by the road leading to the city gate. He would intercept people travelling to consult the king, tell him that no-one would be available to listen and boast that he would do much better and give them justice if only he were to be appointed judge. He was very charming and approachable. If someone came to bow down before him, Absalom would take hold of him and kiss him. He disloyally stole the hearts of the Israelites through slander and flattery. He did this for years.

He asked permission from his father, the king, to go to worship in Hebron and David blessed him. He invited two hundred guests to accompany him, to make it look like he was assembling an army and he sent messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say: ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’. He started to steal David’s officials away from him starting with David’s counsellor. Day by day, Absalom gradually weakened David’s grip on power as his following kept increasing.

David was showing himself to be a complacent ruler. He hadn’t dealt with his son Amnon’s crime and now he was letting the kingdom slip away from him.

Acts 5:12-42

The apostles carried on performing miracles (Acts 5:12). More and more people believed in the Lord and joined them. All the believers used to meet together. We need to meet as the body of Christ to praise and worship God and to teach and encourage each other.

Sick people we laid in the street so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them (Acts 5:15). We need to pray for this level of faith, so that just our presence or our shadow can heal the sick and deliver people from evil spirits. Crowds gathered and everyone was healed (Acts 5:16). Jesus had predicted that the apostles would do even greater things than he. Jesus prayed for healing on an individual basis. Peter was now healing people on an industrial scale.

The religious professionals were filled with jealousy and threw the apostles into jail. An angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail in the night and brought them out. He told them to stand in the temple courts and ‘tell the people the full message of this new life’ (Acts 5:20). Everyday, we should publicly tell people that they can lead a wonderful new life in Jesus Christ.

The full assembly of the elders of Israel (the Sanhedrin) gathered to interrogate the apostles but they were not be found in the jail. Eventually, they found them freely teaching in the temple courts and went to collect them. They didn’t use force against them as the crowds would have defended them.

The Sanhedrin reminded the apostles they had been ordered not to teach in Jesus’ name. Peter reminded them that the apostles must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). They, and the Holy Spirit, were witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection. God had exalted Jesus to his right hand as Prince and Saviour ‘that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel’ (Acts 5:31).

It is wonderful to pray in tongues as it confirms the Holy Spirit is living in us because we obey God. The Holy Spirit lives in people who believe and obey God (Acts 5:32).

The Sanhedrin became infuriated and wanted to put all the apostles to death but a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a brilliant teacher of the law who educated Saint Paul, wisely told them to leave the men alone. If they were working for God, they could not be stopped and the Sanhedrin would find themselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39).

The Sanhedrin ordered the disciples to be flogged and not to speak in the name of Jesus and then let them go. The apostles left rejoicing because ‘they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name’ (Acts 5:41-42). In public and going from house to house, they never stopped ‘teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ’ (Acts 5:42). In this county, it is only the Jehovah’s Witnesses who bother going door-to-door telling people about Jesus. Maybe, we should all be inspired by the early church and start with all the houses in our own roads. Knock on their doors, tell them about Jesus and ask if anyone needs to be healed or delivered so we can pray for them. If people won’t go to church, the church will have to go to them.

Proverbs 14:15-24

We should not believe everything we are told and assess it in light of Biblical teaching. However, we do not want to become so distrusting that we give a Spirit of Unbelief a right to attach to us. I believe most things in news reports unless they are completely against the Word of God. We have to be careful in this country because our foremost channel has such an evil, woke, liberal agenda. They even infect their drama programmes with unchristian influences including pro-abortion propaganda. Once we have our eyes opened to how biased a media channel is, it can be quite entertaining to watch just to spot the recurrent toxic anti-Christians themes but we should try to shun such evil (Prov.14:16).

However, when the news has scientists on it who tell me that it a good idea to have a Covid vaccine to stop the deadly pandemic that has devastated the global economy, I believe them. There is clear clinical evidence that it helps and, as we should love our neighbour as ourselves, we should be vaccinated to protect other people. I have lost respect for the leaders of several smaller Christian denominations who haven’t given clear leadership on this matter and put their congregations at risk. The leaders of the mainstream denominations, the Anglicans and the Catholics, have clearly told Christians that they should be vaccinated and, as we are meant to be people of obedience, this should be good enough for us. If we don’t have a vaccine we are putting God to the test, which Jesus reiterated to the devil that we should not do (Matt. 4:7).

We should wisely weigh up the evidence not entertaining all the crazy conspiracy theories that a simple person might believe (Prov.14:15). The prudent are crowned with knowledge and wisdom. Foolishly rejecting a lifesaving vaccine is folly and will yield foolish deaths. God works through people these days. He will have inspired the scientists to make the vaccine in order to save our society.

It isn’t a holy blessing to be poor and to be shunned by people (Prov.14:20). God likes us to prosper through our hard work and his guidance. If we prosper, we can be even kinder to the needy and God will bless us even more.

Image: Masaccio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

David anointed King / Jesus Appears to his Disciples: June 1st 2021

2 Samuel 1:1-2:7

A man escaped from the Israelite camp and told David that Saul and his son Jonathan were dead. The man brought Saul’s crown and his arm-band with him. David and his men mourned, wept and fasted (2 Sam. 1:12). However, David was not comfortable about some aspects of the man’s story. The messenger admitted he was an Amalekite and David had just come back from slaughtering the Amalekites. He also claimed to have finished off the mortally wounded Saul, which was a lie, presumably to win favour with David. Even though Saul had frequently tried to kill him, David still respected God’s anointed king and did not approve of anyone lifting a sword against him (2 Sam. 1:14). David ordered that the hapless messenger should be killed in punishment for allegedly killing Saul.

David lamented the death of Saul and Jonathan: ‘How the mighty have fallen!’ (2 Sam. 1:19). He especially grieved for Jonathan. They had a pure loving friendship, which is exceedingly rare these days (2 Sam. 1:26). Jonathan had loved David as himself (1 Sam. 18:3). Jesus told us that we were to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39) and he demonstrated how God extended this type of love to the whole world.

Eventually, David asked the Lord whether he should visit Judah. God told him to go to Hebron. David took his wives and his men there and settled in Hebron and its towns. He was anointed king of Judah (2 Sam.2:4).

David sent an encouraging message to the town of Jabesh Gilead to thank them for burying Saul (2 Sam. 2:6-7).

The king of Israel was dead, long live David the king – just of Judah so far but it was a good start.

John 20:10-31

Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb crying after Peter and John had gone back to their homes. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had delivered Mary from a terrible demonic oppression and, as a result, she loved Jesus tremendously and was one of his most devoted followers. She was the sister of Lazarus and Martha and had previously wet Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:38), drying them with her hair. She had recently anointed his feet again in preparation for his burial in her own house in Bethany (John 12:3). We should all have a tender love for Jesus like Mary Magdalene had, being forever grateful that he has wiped away our sins and longing to spend time with him.

Mary looked inside the tomb and saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been. They did not understand why she was crying. The knew about Jesus’ resurrection and so expected the world to be rejoicing. Turning around, she thought the gardener was standing there but it was Jesus. Jesus’ first word after being resurrected was ‘Mary’ (John 20:16). Jesus knows us all as individuals and calls out our names so we can come to him and be saved.

Jesus reiterated that we can now call God our Father. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus, co-heirs with Christ (John 20:17). Mary joyfully took this good news back to the disciples. She had seen the resurrected living Lord.

The disciples had locked themselves in. They were quaking ‘for fear of the Jews’ (John 20:19). They weren’t going to get far in spreading the gospel with this attitude and so Jesus appeared to them and breathed on them to give them the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). The Holy Spirit at Pentecost would later empower them to become supercharged, powerful apostles. At our baptism, which might have happened to us as infants, we receive both the Holy Spirit and a supernatural seal on our hearts flagging that we belong to God. However, this small deposit of the Holy Spirit may not burst into flames and energise us until we experience our own personal Pentecost – the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’. We need to pray directly to the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus, on a daily basis and ask him to fire up all his gifts within us so we can be the best witness we can be to the Lord Jesus Christ for the glory of God.

The disciples were overjoyed to see Jesus again. Jesus took away their terror and gave them peace (John 20:19). He was sending them out into the world, once he had empowered them with the Holy Spirit. just as the Father had sent him (John 20:21).

Jesus told them that if they forgave anyone their sins, they would be forgiven (John 20:23). From this comes the tradition of the Mother Church of believers confessing to a priest their sins so that he will grant them absolution on account of his spiritual authority handed down in an unbroken chain from the first apostles through the laying on of hands. It is wonderful to hear these holy words: ‘God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.‘ It is like receiving a loving embrace from our Father:

Other denominations teach that you can ask God the Father directly for absolution but that would be missing out the human mediation that Jesus stipulated in John 20:23, Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18. The Mother Church teaches that we can ask God directly for absolution in exceptional circumstances – immediate danger of death or a global pandemic – but we have to ask him with ‘perfect contrition’, rather than just a fear of hell, and promise to visit a priest as soon as circumstances allow. Perfect contrition is ‘sorrow for sin arising from perfect love. In perfect contrition the sinner detests sin more than any other evil, because it offends God, who is supremely good and deserving of all human lovehttps://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=35519

‘Doubting’ Thomas missed Jesus’ appearance and refused to believe it happened. A week later, though the doors were locked Jesus came again and stood among the disciples. He told Thomas to stop doubting and believe. As full recognition and faith dawned, Thomas uttered the beautiful phrase: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:27-28). We should be able to say this with heartfelt thanks when we consider how many times God has rescued us during our lives. Jesus will forgive us too for having doubts. He will demonstrate time and again in our lives that it is not fate, karma or good luck that steers our lives. Jesus is walking with us demonstrating his constant love for us.

We are particularly blessed when we believe based on hearing the gospel alone rather than having to see Jesus with our own eyes (John 20:29).

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples. John listed a sufficient number of major miracles in his gospel for us to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Belief is a simple choice. I can turn on the TV, watch the news and choose to believe the newscaster. Similarly, we can choose to believe the Bible and the two thousands years of Christian witness. martyrdom and teaching since it was written or think we know better through foolish pride. Belief leads to eternal life. Choosing not to believe leads to eternal separation from God. It really shouldn’t be a difficult decision but the spirit of unbelief is rampant in the world at the moment – just consider how fairly sensible people have refused to believe scientists about the Covid pandemic and made a fuss about social distancing and wearing masks. God solves problems these days through people. He inspired scientists to produce a miracle vaccine. We just have to choose to believe in his provenance.

By believing, we will have life in his name (John 20:31).

Proverbs 13:20-14:4

We should pick our company carefully (Prov.13:20).

Many of the great heroes in the Bible: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Daniel were wealthy men. The righteous will receive a reward (Prov. 13:21). We are all righteous in the sight of God due to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and so we can claim our reward of prosperity.

Poverty isn’t a blessing. We want to be able to help future generations of our family (Prov. 13:22).

Injustice in the world keeps people poor. We should fight for social justice to lift people out of poverty.

God loves us and so will discipline us and allow us to go through trials to refine us like silver, give us endurance, makes us stronger and build our character. No test, no worthwhile testimony.

Devious people despise the Lord (Prov. 14:2). Christians respect his awesome power and love.

Image: National Gallery of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Birth of Samson / Many Disciples Desert Jesus: May 11th 2021

Judges 12:1-13:25

Just as the Ephraimites had previously criticised Gideon for not calling them to fight Israel’s enemies (Judges 8:1-3), they now criticised Jephthah. The Ephraimites had never led a rebellion against Israel’s oppressors. They just had an irritating habit of jealously criticizing anyone else who did it. They were so furious, they threatened to burn down Jephthah’s house.

Jephthah didn’t diplomatically flatter them as Gideon had done. He said that he had called them, they hadn’t responded and so he launched the attack himself with the Lord helping him to victory. The Gileadites, under Jephthah’s command, wouldn’t put up with being called renegades and fought the Ephraimites, their fellow Israelites, killing forty-two thousand of them. They conducted ethnic cleansing by forcing anyone who wanted to cross a river ford to say ‘Shibboleth’ and executing the people from Ephraim, who pronounced it differently.

After Jephthah came an assortment of other judges until the birth of Samson.

The Israelites committed evil again and so, the Lord ‘delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years (13:1). A man called Manoah had a wife who was sterile. An angel appeared to tell her she would conceive and have a son. Inability to conceive is a common recurrent theme in the Bible with Elizabeth sterile until giving birth to John the Baptist and Hannah not having children before becoming pregnant with the prophet Samuel. However, both Elizabeth and Hannah had prayed to God to have a child. Samson’s mother is very matter of fact about this annunciation and doesn’t praise God for helping her.

This lady is instructed not to drink wine or any fermented drink and not to shave the baby’s head for he is going to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, similar to John the Baptist. Manoah prays to God for further information and the angel was sent again with the same set of instructions. Manoah said he would like the angel to stay while he prepared a meal for him, a young goat. The angel said he wouldn’t eat it ‘even though you detain me’ (v.16). So not only had God sent the angel as a messenger, but the angel was also under orders to follow the couple’s requests to a limited extent. Manoah then made another faux pas by asking for the angel’s name. We are not permitted to know the name of any angels, apart from the archangels referenced in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. An official exorcist will ask the name of a demon during an authorised exorcism but this is dangerous for lay people and is banned. When we know the name of the spiritual entity, we can summon them and tell them to leave – if we have sufficient authority. However, angels and demons do not like people having this knowledge over them. When lay people carry out deliverance prayers, the Holy Spirit can tell them the name of the oppressing demon as a word of knowledge. As this information has come from God, it can then be used to drive out the demon.

As Manoah sacrificed a goat and a grain offering on a rock, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame (v.20). Samson’s mother – who is never named – eventually gave birth to Samson and the Lord blessed him as he grew. Eventually, the Spirit of the Lord started to stir him (v.25). He was obviously destined for great things.

John 6:60 – 7:13

Many of Jesus’ disciples started to grumble about his ‘eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood’ teaching. We still get this today. A huge percentage of Christians refuse to acknowledge that Catholics eat Jesus’ actual flesh and drink his actual blood during the Holy Eucharist. They don’t believe that an actual miracle takes place during every Holy Mass resulting in ordinary bread and wine becoming the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Modern Catholics haven’t helped this disbelief with the great majority not demonstrating any detectable benefit from consuming Jesus’ body and blood. If everyone could see that Catholic’s faces were shining with the presence of God and they rushed around preaching, healing the sick and delivering people, more people would desire full communion with the Mother Church. To become invigorated, Catholics can undergo ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ and start to exercise the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s a tragedy that the main group of non-Catholics who believe in transubstantiation are witches and devil worshippers. They often have to obtain a consecrated wafer before being allowed to join a coven. The desecration of the Holy Body of Jesus is a terrible part of the initiation ceremony.

The words that Jesus had spoken ‘are spirit and they are life’ (v.63). It is amazing that many ‘disciples’ were following Jesus, hearing his teaching and witnessing his miracles but still did not believe in him. If we attend church and say we are Christians, we have to search our own hearts to determine our own state of believe. We can pray the classic prayer: ‘Jesus, I believe; help my unbelief’.

‘No-one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him’ (v.65). In the Bible, there are many instances where God hardens people’s hearts for specific purposes. What does it mean that our Father God has to enable us before we can come to Jesus? This is a great mystery. We all have free will. We all have God’s law written on our hearts. We all have sufficient saving grace – as a free gift from God – that if we exercised our free will to believe in Jesus, he would come into our lives. Time means nothing to God. The past, present and future are all the same to him. So he knows whether we will, in the future, choose to come to God. Because he knows the people who will definitely do this (as he knows all our futures), he gives them the grace to go ahead and do it – in effect, enabling us. Salvation is a complicated topic. Someone might turn up at the gates of heaven, who had been given hardened heart all their life for some purpose and who had met ‘Christians’ who had behaved so appallingly they had put them off joining the church. We just have to leave all individual judgements in Jesus’ hands.

However, belief is also a simple choice. We can switch on a reputable news channel and decide that they are telling us us the truth about a dozen events happening in the world. We can believe the journalists are endeavouring to tell us the facts to the best of their ability. Similarly, it is very easy for billions of Christians to believe in the stories about Jesus in the Bible, believe in the thousands of eye-witnesses who saw his miracles, believe in the thousands of holy people who have been martyred over the last two thousand years on account of their witness to Jesus and who have successfully spread the gospel to the end of the world. Belief is a switch we can just flick in our brains to swap us from disobedience. Lorcán O’Reilly (OMI) wrote: ‘Many people think they have no faith because they feel they haven’t. They do not realise they must make a choice to believe, take the risk of believing, of committing themselves and setting themselves to live out the commitment. Never mind that they continue to feel that they do not believe. Under cover of being ‘authentic’ we can spend our lives waiting for the kind of certainty we cannot have’ (Oblate Connections – No.46, Feb. 2020).

Simon Peter and ten other disciples remained loyal to Jesus: ‘You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ (v.69).

Jesus avoided Judea and Jerusalem because: ‘the Jews there were waiting to take his life’ (7:1). Jesus was encouraged to go to Judea to show off his miracles in public but the time was not right. When the right time came, Jesus would willingly lay his life down for us but that time would be dictated by the Holy Spirit, not by disbelieving men.

The world hated Jesus because he testified that what it does is evil (v.7). Talking about the great injustices in the world does not make you popular. If you ever want to turn a dinner party into a riot, bring up how evil we all are at allowing over 200,000 unborn children in the UK to be executed each year through abortion. However, the fact that we don’t say this enough allows this practice to continue. We all need to channel our inner Greta Thunberg and stand up and say the truth, whatever the cost.

People whispered their opinions about Jesus in secret at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus moved around in disguise. ‘No-one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews’ (v.13). Many people today are secret believers in Jesus. If they talk about their faith, they will face abuse and criticism from the world. However, we need to stand up and be counted. If we declare our faith in Jesus openly, he will stand up for us at the Day of Judgement

Psalm 59:9-17

God is our strength and fortress. He is our refuge in times of trouble.

Evil people are caught out in their pride by the lying words of their cursing lips.

We should always sing praises to our loving God. Worship him alone.

Image: https://picryl.com/media/an-angel-announces-the-birth-of-samson-to-manoah-and-his-wife-0ac785

Gideon / Life through Jesus: May 7th 2021

Judges 6:1-7:8a

The Israelites once again committed evil and so were handed over to the Midianites for seven years. Reading Judges becomes pretty frustrating wondering how a whole nation could so persistently annoy God over and over again. The Israelites faced terrible consequences for their disobedience on a cyclical basis: sin, punishment, grieving / crying out to God, and deliverance. However, I used to commit exactly the same sins on a cyclical basis, I would be washed clean by confession but, within a few weeks, even though I rejoiced when I was forgiven by God, I was doing the same things again. My constant cycle of sinning and repentance was only broken when I handed myself over to the Holy Spirit for him to pray through me and build me up, edifying and sanctifying me. Sometimes, sinful thoughts start to creep back in but these can be batted away and not engaged with. The more we Pray in Tongues, the more we can stay on the straight and narrow path.

The Israelites had to hide in mountain clefts and caves because the Midianites were so oppressive. Moses’ father-in-law and wife had been a Midianite. The Israelite’s crops and livestock were repeatedly plundered leaving them so impoverished that ‘they cried out to the Lord for help’ (v.6). God tried to get them to return to him by hitting them in the pocket. A lack of finances and food can clarify people’s attitude to their provider.

The angel of the Lord went to speak to an Israelite called Gideon while he was surreptitiously threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. Gideon questioned his greeting: ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior’ (v.12). The dire straits that the Israelites were in did not concur with the Lord being with them.

Here we might have another Christophany – an actual appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament. Because the text turns from ‘the angel of the Lord’ speaking to Gideon, to saying it was actually God holding the conversation: ‘The Lord turned to him and said’ (v.14)’. This encounter is similar to the one with Abraham (Genesis 18:1-33). Abraham had a visit from Jesus and two angels. Whereas, Gideon had a visit from Jesus and one angel. The Lord / Jesus promised to be with Gideon as he struck down all the Midianites together (v.16). This seemed like an unlikely feat because Gideon’s clan was the ‘weakest in Manasseh’ and he was the least in his family (v.15). However, God can use seemingly weak, ordinary people living in obscurity to do wonderful things just as he chose the virgin Mary, an unmarried teenager, to be the mother of our Saviour.

The Lord / Jesus promised to stay while Gideon went to fetch an offering (v.18). Gideon wanted proof that it really was the Lord speaking to him and seemed to get away with this unwise impertinence. Jesus was in a peaceful mood and full of forgiveness. Gideon was told to place his offering on a rock. ‘The angel of God’ touched the meat and unleavened bread with the tip of a staff and fire flared from the rock consuming the offering. This is similar to the covenant that God made with Abraham (Genesis 15:17-20) when God gave the promised land to Abraham and his descendants. It was now time for Gideon to reclaim the territory given to them by God.

Gideon was told by the Lord to cut down his father’s altar to the evil Canaanite deity Baal and the pole that signified worship of his alleged mother, Asherah. These were the Canaanite demonic fertility gods that the surviving inter-marrying pagans had persuade the Israelites to worship begging for agricultural success. Gideon was to recycle the wood from the pagan altar to make a proper sacrifice to the one true God. Gideon did this but at night, because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town (v.27).

The men of the town wanted to execute Gideon for his actions but his father, Joash, defended him. He was obviously feeling guilty about worshipping pagan gods. He pointed out that if Baal really is a god, he can fight for himself. As a result, Gideon is renamed ‘Jerub-Baal’ meaning ‘Let Baal contend with him’ (v.32).

The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and he blew a trumpet calling the Israelites to arms (v.34).

Gideon tested the Lord twice more to see if he really would save Israel – asking him to make a sheep’s fleece wet with dew one night (while the ground stayed dry) and then to keep a fleece dry (despite heavy dew) the next night. God loves using water for miraculous purposes and happily complied. Considering that Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, was struck dumb for querying the angel Gabriel just once (Luke 1:20), Gideon really seemed to be pushing his luck.

Gideon assembled thirty-two thousand Israelites to fight for freedom but that would have been too easy for them. God wanted to demonstrate that it was his strength that brought the victory. He whittled the army down to just 300 by telling Gideon to only select fighters who lapped water ‘with their hands to their mouths’ (7:5). God promised that he would save Gideon and defeat the Midianites even with this meagre fighting force.

Gideon didn’t require any more reassurance now that the fight was approaching. God had proven three times that it was him who had commissioned Gideon for this battle. Gideon had finally found his faith.

John 5:16-30

Jesus carried on performing miracles on the Sabbath and calling God his Father. The Jews tried even harder to kill him (v.18). We must ensure that we never become legalistic, blinkered and prejudiced, failing to discern and appreciate the holy work of God going on around us.

Jesus said that he could do nothing by himself, he could only do what he had seen his Father doing (v.19). Jesus’s Father loves him and ‘shows him all he does’ (v.20).

Jesus confirmed that his Father can raise the dead and so Jesus will give life ‘to whom he is pleased to give it’ (v.21). All judgment has been entrusted to Jesus. Anyone who does not honour Jesus, does not honour God who sent him (v.23). We will cross over from death to life if we hear Jesus’ words and believe in him (v.24). We will not be condemned. Jesus predicted that soon the dead would hear his voice and live. Jesus descended into hell after his death on the cross to rescue the righteous and allow them to enter heaven: ‘those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned’ (v.29).

In just a few verses we find some confusion as to whether our salvation is based on faith alone or a combination of faith and deeds. Jesus said that if we believe in him, we will cross over into life. However, he also clearly says that the dead will be fairly judged on their deeds. It is true that we can never earn salvation by our own efforts. Only Jesus’ death could wipe away our sin and make us righteous in the eyes of God. This is a gift. However, there is also a judgement in regards to whether we have done good or evil. We are justified by faith, but we also have to live well. We should spend our days trying to please God rather than ourselves. ‘You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24).

‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead’ (James 2:26).

Psalm 57:7-11

King David has cheered up today. He has a steadfast heart (v.7). He will sing and make music. He will play music so loudly he will awaken the dawn (v.8).

We need to steadfastly praise God among the nations and sing of him among the peoples. We should try to awaken the dawn with our worship. God’s love for us is so great it reaches to the heavens. His faithfulness reaches to the skies (v.10). King David knew he was dearly loved by God despite the sins he had committed.

We must exalt God’s most holy name above the heavens. His formal name is too holy for us to utter. His glory shines all over the earth and, after we are baptized and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts, within us.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gideon,_the_Biblical_judge,_wrings_the_dewy_fleece._Autotype_Wellcome_V0034411.jpg

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