Hosea’s Wife and Children / Paul: Dead to sin, Alive in Christ: July 20th 2021

Hosea 1:1-2:23

Hosea (meaning ‘Salvation’) prophesised shortly after Amos (around 755-710 BC). He prophesied that God would still loyally show love for Israel, in spite of its unfaithful idolatry.

Hosea was told by God to marry an adulterous woman – a prostitute – and have ‘children of unfaithfulness’ because Israel had been unfaithful to the Lord (Hosea 1:2). Their domestic life was ‘a dramatization of the sin and unfaithfulness of Israel’ (MacArthur, 2021, 1122).

Hosea married Gomer and she bore him a son. Hosea was instructed to name the boy Jezreel (meaning ‘God will scatter’ or ‘God sows’). God was going to sow judgment and punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel  (where Jehu slaughtered the relations of Ahab) and put an end to the kingdom of Israel.

Gomer then had two more children. They named one, a daughter, Lo-Ruhamah meaning ‘not loved’ / ‘no compassion’ / ‘no mercy’. God had vowed not to show love to the Northern Kingdom (Israel) any longer but he would still show love to the South (Judah).

They had another son and named him Lo-Ammi, meaning ‘not my people’. Via Hosea, God delivered his heart-breaking sentence on Israel ‘you are not my people, and I am not your God!’ (Hos.1:9). God was temporarily breaking the covenant he had given (Ex.3:14) by saying “I am no longer ‘I am’ to you” (MacArthur, 2021, 1124).

However, God would eventually reverse this and reunite the people of Israel and Judah after periods of exile when he would give them new hearts to know him (Jer.24:7).

Israel would be punished harshly but would be eventually restored. God had given them good things: grain, new wine, oil, silver and gold which they had unfaithfully used to worship demonic entities (Hos.2:8). They had chosen demons as their ‘lovers’ and credited them for giving them vines and fig trees, when in fact all good things had come from God. They had forgotten their creator and prostituted themselves.

God withheld rain and made the ground unproductive to demonstrate that the Canaanite deities were not the source of rain and fertility.

We shouldn’t rush around trying to secure food, drink and clothing through our own efforts or by relying on demons. Jesus said to ‘seek first his (God’s) kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matt.6:33). God knows we need his provision for our lives.

When God restored Israel after their upcoming exile, he would sign an everlasting formal contract with the people (a betrothal). He would promise them safety, righteousness, justice, love, compassion and faithfulness.

When God responded to the people (who God called Jezreel), all creation would also respond and produce new wine and oil. God would show love to the people he had called ‘not loved’ (Lo-Ruhamah) and declare them as his people (reversing Lo-Ammi, ‘not my people’).

The restored Israelites would faithfully declare, ‘You are my God’ (Hos.2:23).

Romans 6:1-14

Baptized believers should be dead to sin. If we find ourselves repeating the same sins, we should give up trying to conquer them by our own strength. We can just hand over the struggle to the Holy Spirit. The more we pray in tongues, the more the Holy Spirit will edify us – building us up and making us spiritually strong. Habitual sin will drop off us because we are no longer the slaves of sin through God’s redeeming power.

When we are baptized, we are baptized into Jesus’ death. In old churches, a section of the floor would be pushed back to reveal a baptism pool like an open water-filled coffin beneath the floor. By being fully immersed in water and emerging back into the light, being given a candle and clothed in a white robe, this signifies how we become new creations through baptism, children of God. We have been raised through the glory of the Father, to live a new life (Rom.6:4).

Some denominations decree that all baptisms should involve full immersion but this is incorrect. It is great to have a full immersion baptism but it is not always practical. Many ‘full immersion’ baptisms are carried out in a domestic bathtub and no-one over five feet tall can be fully immersed in one of those. There always has to be knees sticking out of the water. The typical Anglican / Catholic baptism that just involves sprinkling water on a child’s head is fully valid. As long as some water is used and the person is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – then the baptism is valid. Any baptized Christian can baptize someone else in an emergency such as imminent death.

Paul states that if we have been united with Jesus in his death by baptism, ‘we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection’ (Rom.6:5). Our old self is crucified. We are no longer slaves to sin. Through our baptismal death with Jesus we have been set free and live with Christ. The penalty for all our sins has been paid by Jesus. God will now forgive all our sins if we repent and renounce them.

Death no longer had mastery over Jesus after his resurrection. We have to count ourselves dead to sin and offer ourselves to God, as instruments of righteousness not of wickedness. We do not live under the Jewish law; we live under the grace of God.

Psalm 87:1-7

The Lord loves Jerusalem, the ancient capital city of Judah. It is a major site of pilgrimage for the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is a tragedy that there is so much conflict in the region.

It must be glorious to visit the actual locations in the city where biblical events took place (Ps.87:3).

When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit is given to us. He sets up home on our hearts and our bodies become his temple. He will make streams of living water flow from our hearts so that God can say to Christians ‘all my fountains are in you’ (Ps.87:7).

To turn a trickle of blessings into a flood, we need to repent and ask Jesus to come fully into our lives as our personal saviour and ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle within us, all of his powerful gifts. He will turn our flickering pilot light of faith into a roaring flame. Praise the Lord.  

Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hosea#/media/File:Hosea.jpg

Asa King of Judah / Paul and Silas in Prison: June June 25th 2021

1 Kings 14:21-16:7

The book of 1 Kings now starts alternating between the successive kings of the Northern part of the divided country (the region called ‘Israel’) and the successive kings of the South (the region called ‘Judah’), where Jerusalem was situated. It is mainly a story of abject failure to follow God’s laws.

Rehoboam, son of Solomon, was king of Judah. He was crowned at the age of forty-one and reigned for seventeen years. His mother was an Ammonite. The Ammonites were descended from Ben-Ammi, who was the son of Lot’s youngest daughter. After Lot and his two daughters had escaped from Sodom, his daughters got their father, Lot, drunk every night and had sex with him until they both fell pregnant. The oldest daughter gave birth to Moab, from whom the Moabites were descended. Both the Ammonites and Moabites had been conceived by incest (Gen.19:36-38).

Under Rehoboam’s rule, the country committed evil and angered God even more than it had done under Solomon. The Judeans set up heathen worship sites and had sex with prostitutes in the religious shrines. Their culture had been completely contaminated by the remnants of the indigenous tribes they had failed to exterminate from the promised land (1 Kings 14:24).

In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s rule, the king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. He ransacked the temple and the palace, carrying off all the gold and treasures. Solomon had wisely protected his kingdom by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. Without political alliances, Israel and Judah were threatened by powerful neighbours. Instead of the gold shields that Solomon’s guard had used, they now had to use bronze shields. The kingdom was going downhill with continual warfare against the Northern kingdom (Israel) ruled by the evil Jeroboam.

Abijah became king of Judah after Rehoboam. He only reigned for three years. He committed all the same sins as his father Rehoboam. God was after a king whose heart was fully devoted to him, as the heart of David had been. David had not failed to keep the Lord’s commands all the days of his life – apart from his adulterous affair with the wife of Uriah the Hittite, whom David had murdered (1 Kings 15:5).

After Abijah came Asa. He reigned for forty-one years. He was a breath of fresh air as he obeyed the Lord (1 Kings 15:11). He expelled the shrine-prostitutes and got rid of his father’s idols. He even deposed the evil queen mother, his grandmother, because of her worship of a Canaanite fertility deity. Even though he didn’t manage to remove the high places, Asa’s heart was fully committed to God (1 Kings 15:14).

Asa’s Southern kingdom of Judah was still at war with the North (Israel) now ruled by King Baasha. Asa wisely bought a tactical alliance with the powerful king of Damascus, Ben-Hadad, using all his remaining treasure. Ben-Hadad captured enemy towns in Israel forcing King Baasha to withdraw from threatening Judah’s borders.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Nadab became king after Jeroboam but only reigned for two years before being assassinated by Baasha. Baasha fulfilled the word of the prophet Ahijah (1 Kings 14:10-11) by killing Jeroboam’s entire family. This was because of the sins Jeroboam had personally committed and had also caused Israel, the country under his rule, to commit.

Baasha continued to commit the same sins as Jeroboam had done and so a prophet, Jehu, prophesied that he and his family would meet the same disastrous end (1 Kings 16:3). He had lived by the sword and would die by the sword.

Throughout the book of Kings, the rulers of both Israel and Judah were judged by God on their actions and the attitudes of their hearts. God was always comparing them to David, a man after God’s own heart. Only Asa, king of Judah, has measured up to this ideal so far, which is why God allowed him to rule for forty-one years. Evil rulers had far shorter reigns.

Acts 16:16-40

A slave girl who was possessed by an evil fortune-telling spirit kept following Paul and the rest of the disciples. She made a great deal of money for her owners. Evil spirits can’t actually tell you the future. Only God knows the future. However, because demons are immensely clever, they can generally predict the future, working it out from knowledge of people’s behaviour and habits. They also have access to hidden knowledge / lists of people’s sins and can make events happen in the future to match their predictions. If a fortune teller predicts that someone will have a car crash next week, they could send a demon to cause the crash. Christians are not allowed to consult fortune tellers but if one forced a negative prediction on us like that, we should pray to God that he will send his holy angels to prevent it from happening. The fortune telling girl following the disciples simply identified who the disciples were and what they were doing. This was common knowledge amongst all the local evil spirits working together in an evil hierarchy (Acts 16:17)

Paul became so troubled by the slave girl that he ordered the spirit to come out of her (Acts 16:18). The spirit obeyed. For a successful exorcism, the person being prayed for usually has to want to be freed and so we can assume the slave girl kept following the disciples because she wanted liberation.

The owners of the slave girl were furious to have lost their income and so had the magistrates strip and beat Paul and Silas and throw them into prison. They were put in the inner cell with their feet in stocks. Paul and Silas were irrepressible and were praying and singing to God at midnight when there was a violent earthquake. All the prison doors flew open and everybody’s chains came loose. The other prisoners had been listening to Paul and Silas all evening and so their spiritual shackles may well have come loose too.

The jailer was going to kill himself thinking all his prisoners had escaped but Paul reassured him (Acts 16:28). He asked the apostles what he must do to be saved. Paul replied: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and all your household’ (Acts 16:31). They told him and his family the gospel message, The jailer washed their wounds and he and his family were baptized. They seized the chance while the apostles were there. They recognised the chance for salvation and the whole family were filled with joy, because they had come to believe in God. The jailer had been in spiritual jail because of sin. The blood of Jesus washed him and family clean and gave them eternal freedom and life.

The magistrates ordered Paul and Silas to be released in the morning but they refused to go. They had a surprise for the corrupt magistrates, they were Roman citizens and should not have been treated so disrespectfully. The magistrates had to come personally to appease them and escort them from the prison. They ‘requested’ that they should leave the city rather than demanded it.

Paul and Silas went back to Lydia’s house and encouraged the other believers with their incredible testimony before leaving.

God brought some good out of the disciples being thrown into jail. Not only did the fellow inmates hear from the apostles, but also an entire family was saved. The jailer would then have been able to talk about Jesus to all future prisoners. Prison can be a place of wonderful spiritual renewal where people at their lowest ebb can finally find God. We might get a chance to visit a prison one day and think that we will be bringing Jesus in with us. However, we will find that Jesus is already there.

Proverbs 15:21-30

Unlike the foolish king Rehoboam, we should listen to many wise counsellors and actually act on their advice (Prov.15:22). When we are wise, we will stick to the straight path of life that leads upwards.

The Lord tears down the proud man’s house. He doesn’t like greed and He detests the thoughts of wicked people. He is far from them.

Jesus Christ made us righteous with God through his death on the cross and so God will hear our prayers (Prov.15:29).

We should weigh our answers and delight in a holy, timely and apt reply.

We should remain cheerful at all times, just as Paul and Silas did when sitting sit-by-side in stocks in the prison (Prov.15:30). Their cheerful songs and looks brought joy to the heart of other prisoners. The good news of the Gospel brought everlasting life to their jailer and his family.

Image: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

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

The Gibeonites avenged / Simon the Sorcerer / Philip and the Ethiopian: June 13th 2021

2 Samuel 20:1-21:22

Another rebellion started. The fickle men of Israel deserted David again. This time, to follow Sheba, son of Bicri. The men of Judah stayed loyal to King David.

King David returned to his palace in Jerusalem. He took the ten concubines, whom Absalom had slept with in his absence, and confined them as widows for the rest of their lives. This was not the best day for women’s rights in the Old Testament. However, David obviously felt a duty of care towards these women. Concubines were often slaves, who had been selected to provide powerful men with pleasure and additional heirs but they did not have the same rights as official wives. It wasn’t until the 14th and 15th centuries that the Christian church outlawed concubinage throughout its territories.

The King told his new army commander, Amasa, to leave and assemble the men of Judah and return within three days. Amasa took longer than this. They couldn’t wait and so sent out David’s personal troops to chase Sheba the rebel before he escaped. Joab, who had recently been replaced as military commander, met Amasa at the great rock in Gibeon. Joab greeted him in a deceptively friendly matter before murdering him with a dagger. Joab was determined to get his old job back.

All the troops then followed Joab in the pursuit of Sheba. They besieged the fugitive in the city of Abel Beth Maacah and started to batter the city wall to bring it down. A wise woman negotiated with Job and persuaded the citizens to cut off Sheba’s head and threw it down to Joab. Another threat to David’s reign was dead. Joab withdrew his troops from the city and they dispersed and went home. Joab went back to king David as commander over Israel’s entire army. I wonder what he told David in regards to Amasa’s death: ‘He slipped and fell on his own dagger’.

There was a famine for three years and David asked God why this was occurring. The Lord replied that it was because of Saul putting the Gibeonites to death. David was not personally responsible but the country was suffering for this historical treachery. During the Exodus, the Israelites had promised to spare the Gibeonites, who were survivors of the Amorites, but Saul had tried to annihilate them. It was up to the present king to make amends.

David asked the Gibeonites how Israel could make amends: (2 Sam.21:4). The Gibeonites asked for seven of Saul’s male descendants to be handed over to them to be killed. The king spared Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth because of his vow to take care of him but handed over seven other sons of Saul. The Gibeonites killed them, and exposed their bodies on a hill. David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from Jabesh Gilead to be buried in the tomb of Saul’s father and gathered up the bones of the other sons of the Saul who had recently been killed. After that, God started to answer prayer again that was offered to him on behalf of the nation.

This shows the importance of world leaders making reparations for past crimes / genocides and other atrocities. God remembers historical offenses against him and can block communication with countries many years later until they apologise and make amends. Our UK leaders will eventually have to apologise for the six million unborn children killed in this county since the 1967 Abortion act.

David went to war against the Philistines again. David was getting on in years and became exhausted by the battle. He was therefore in no fit state to fight another giant. David had defeated the enormous Goliath in his youth. Goliath had been nine feet nine inches tall and had worn scale armour that weighed 125 pounds. Goliath’s spearhead had weighed a massive 15-16 pounds. Now David faced another giant, Ishbi-benob, who was probably smaller than Goliath as his spear head was half the weight. David had to be rescued by Abishai who struck down the giant and killed him. The giants, who had allied themselves with the Philistines, were descended from the mysterious Nephilim / Anakim. David had been so close to losing his life that his army banned him from fighting with them again (2 Sam.21:17).

https://knowingscripture.com/articles/giants-in-the-land-a-biblical-theology-of-the-nephilim-anakim-rephaim-and-goliath

The Israelites killed another three giants in battles with the Philistines at Gog and Gatha (2 Sam.21:22). The Israelites were gradually completing the extermination of the giants that Joshua had started but had failed to complete. The race of giants may have been formed by an unholy union between fallen angels and human woman and so they needed to be eliminated. I think this was more like IVF / genetical manipulation as I don’t believe demons can create eggs or sperm of their own. However, the genes from the Nephilim / Anakim descendants had infected much of humanity. Another reason why God might have wanted Canaanite tribes to be completely wiped out rather than be allowed to breed with Israelites.

Acts 8:4-40

The persecution of the early Christians resulted in them scattering throughout the known world. They preached the gospel wherever they went and so the church grew exponentially. Philip found himself in Samaria and there was great joy there because people were healed and evil spirits came out of many. Because Philip demonstrated the truth of the word through the powerful healings that accompanied him people paid close attention to what he said (Acts 8:6-7).

Simon the Sorcerer had made himself famous in Samaria through his demonic magic. He believed in Philip’s teaching and was baptized. He followed Philip everywhere (Acts 8:13).

Peter and John were sent to Samaria as well when they heard about the success of Philip’s missionary work. They found that even though Samaritans had been baptized ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’, the Holy Spirit had not yet come down upon any of them (Acts 8:15-16). Peter and John placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). This is fascinating because the Mother Church teaches that everyone baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit receives the Holy Spirit and becomes a child of God. However, the great majority of Christians show no outward signs that the Holy Spirit is within them. He might just exist within them as a tiny seed, a little flickering pilot light that is never ignited. We only see evidence of the Holy Spirit when these baptized people fully accept Jesus into their lives, become obedient to God and ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle in them his fire and his gifts. Then people start to become fully alive in Christ and start to show evidence of supernatural gifts such as praying in the Spirit.

Pentecostals typically baptize adults – who have fully accepted Jesus into their lives by earnestly saying ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’. They often exhibit the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the moment they are baptized. Some people have the gift of praying for others to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The evangelist Ros Powell once prayed for a group of people including me at a conference to receive an additional supernatural prayer language. As soon as she prayed and touched us on the forehead, we each started to speak in a new language. Simon the sorcerer wanted this power and offered the apostle’s money so that he could lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-19). Simon might have had good motives but he also may have seen this as a money-making opportunity. Even today, religious people still make money selling blessed articles or holy objects which is a grave sin known as ‘Simony’ after Simon the Sorcerer. As Christians, we have been given blessings and power as free gifts and we have to freely pass these onto others. It is fine for churches to sell manmade statues or medals or other mementoes but as soon as they have been officially blessed by a priest or deacon and become imbued with holy power, they can never be sold again. We should stay away from anyone who wants to charge for religious services.

Peter rebuked Simon severely (Acts 8:20-23) and told him to repent. Simon asked Peter to pray for him.

Peter and John returned to Jerusalem after testifying and proclaiming the word of God.

Philip was told by an angel to go South where he met an Ethiopian eunuch. The Holy Spirit instructed Philip to go to the eunuch’s chariot and stay near it. Philip offered to explain the passage in Isaiah that the eunuch was reading which was all about Jesus (Acts 8:32). This scripture reading provided the perfect opening for Philip to tell the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus.

The Ethiopian saw some water and seized the opportunity to be baptized. This is how we should be with every spiritual gift. If someone is offering us the chance to receive a special prayer or a blessing at the altar we should seize it. I met a senior freemason the other day. He was shuffling his way in agony across the car park outside a doctor’s surgery. Satan had riddled his body so badly with arthritis that he could barely move. Every step was agony. I offered to pray for him but he rejected my offer! He said he didn’t have enough time, even though I could have followed behind him and prayed a dozen times before he finished his tortuous journey to the car. Some people are so damaged, they require our prayers just to give them the desire to be prayed for.

Philip baptized the eunuch who went away rejoicing to spread the gospel throughout Ethiopia. Philip was then mysteriously transported by the Holy Spirit to the city of Azotus. The Holy Spirit wanted the gospel to spread so fast that he was in effect teleporting an apostle around the region. Thanks to the blessings of the internet today, our evangelism can be spread throughout the world at the speed of light.

Proverbs 14:25-25

Our respect for our awesome God will give us a secure fortress and is our fountain of life.

‘Envy rots the bones’ – we should try to have a heart at peace (Prov.14:30) that does not lust after our neighbour’s belongings.

The Holy Spirit will give us patience, wisdom and understanding. As Christians we stand up for the truth and a truthful witness can save lives through their testimony.

Jesus made us righteous through his death on the cross and so we have an everlasting refuge in God (Prov.14:32).

Image: Uoaei1, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Marriage / Divorce and Jesus’ Disciples Baptize: May 3rd 2021

Joshua 23:1-24:33

Joshua gave a farewell speech to the leaders of the Israelites before he died. He reminded them that the Lord, their God, would drive out the tribes before them so they could conquer all of the promised land. They must be ‘very strong‘ and obey all that was written in the book of the law ‘without turning aside to the right or to the left’ (v.6).

They must not associate with the nations that remain and not invoke the names of their heathen gods, swear by them, serve them or bow down to them (v.7). Just like us now, they must ‘hold fast to the Lord your God’ no matter what temptations they face.

As the Lord God will fight for them, just one Israelite will be able to rout a thousand enemies. If they turn away, ally themselves with the survivors of their enemies, intermarry and associate with them, this will bring them down (v.12). God will no longer drive their enemies out and their pagan associates will ‘become snares and traps for you, whips on your back and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you’ (v.13).

The instructions are all very clear. However, in the future, sex is going to bring down the entire nation. Lusting after Pagan women will result in intermarriage leading to Israel and Judah being defeated by the Assyrians and Babylonians and led into exile. Even Solomon, the wisest man in history, will be brought down by his hundreds of Pagan wives tempting him to worship other deities.

Sexual temptation is still a massive problem for Christians today. Christians can’t divorce and get remarried. God hates divorce. Yet, we find many Christians, including those who would regard themselves as ‘born again’ divorcing and getting remarried or marrying a divorcee. This is a grave sin that will bar people from heaven. Marriage is permanent and lasts until one of the partners is deceased, The only way a Christian can ‘marry’ for the second time is if their partner dies or they prove that the first marriage didn’t actually exist through an annulment process (for example, proving the first marriage wasn’t consummated).

Christians cannot divorce and get remarried like Pagans do. Christian marriage is for life. Of course, this truth can be very painful but it shouldn’t put people in danger. If people are in abusive relationships they can separate and live apart but, until one of the partner dies or the marriage is annulled, there is meant to be no sex with different people / no extra marriages. If married people fall in love with other people, they can live with them but only as brother and sister. Sex isn’t allowed. This is massively difficult for the modern world to accept. Most people do not believe they can live in a celibate relationship.

This is why marriage should not be entered into without a lot of care and consideration. We must try to ensure we have found our true, lifelong partner before we commit to them. The prophet Ezra had to lead all the Israelites in separating themselves from their Pagan marriage partners in order to make the nation right with God again (Ezra 9:1-44). When we come to God after repenting our past mistakes, we are meant to stop sinning. If we are in an illicit marriage, we wake up each day in a state of grave sin. We have to choose which is more important, obeying God or sex.

The model for a happy celibate marriage is the Holy Family: Joseph and Mary, Mother of God. Mary was a temple virgin – a lifelong vocational virgin – and the temple elders asked the elderly widower, Joseph, to be her guardian to remove her from the temple before she started menstruating. Mary stayed a virgin all her life because she had been dedicated to God.

Joshua pointed out that all of the good promises that God had made had been delivered. God is faithful to us. However, he is also faithful to the threat that his anger will burn against us and we will perish if we serve other gods. It’s a mystery why we haven’t all been wiped out already when we look at the state of the world today. God is being patient with us to save as many as possible but eventually judgement day will fall. ‘He is a holy God; he is a jealous God’ (24:19) Before Jesus made us righteous with God, God would not have forgiven our rebellion and our sins and he still won’t if we don’t approach him through the precious blood of his son by confessing our belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Even Abraham’s father, Terah, worshipped pagan gods. We can be the first generation in our family to convert to Christ. If our parents are still living, we can be an example to them and pray for their salvation. Part of your mission on earth might be saving your own family as you also preach to others.

Choose who you serving today. Are you going to worship pagan entities, demons, yourself or celebrities? Are you going to worship at the altar of consumerist capitalism? As for me, I will serve the Lord.

Joshua made the Israelites witness to themselves that they had chosen to the Lord and would throw away all foreign gods but, with the luxury of the rest of the Bible, we know a terrible fate is awaiting them due to their inability to be faithful.

Joshua set up a stone as a witness against them under the oak tree near the holy place of the Lord: ‘It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us’ (v.27). All of creation seems to be able to record events and play them back, Jesus is in all created matter. Interestingly, some paranormal investigators think that ghosts more frequently occur in old stone-built cottages because the stones record past events and play them back like a DVD player. Jesus preached that objects we generally regard as inanimate do have their own interior life. This probably explains the fascination with rocks and crystals in the New Age movement. Engineers know that crystals such as quartz oscillate at an incredibly precise frequency, which is why they are built into watches. Mountains will fling themselves into the sea if we have enough faith and stones would have cried out on Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem (for his cataclysmic showdown with the devil) if the crowds had not shouted ‘Hosanna’ (Luke 19:40).

Joshua sent the people away to their own inheritance and died (at the age of a hundred and ten) (v.29). The nation of Israel had served the Lord during his lifetime and the lifetime of the other elders who had been direct eye-witnesses of God’s miracles. However, Joshua had not appointed a single successor to keep the whole nation unified. The Israelites had all split into their different tribes. Since Moses had come back to Egypt, having a single leader who could communicate with God and, most importantly, intercede for his people to stop God’s wrath at their disobedience had been vital. The only clear successor they had was Eleazar the Priest’s son, Phinehas, taking over the priesthood. The last few verses of Joshua clear the decks of the older generation – with the bones of Joseph finally being laid to waste. A new chapter in Israel’s history is just about to start.

John 3:22-36

Jesus and his disciples spent some time in the countryside and his disciples baptized people (4:2). People started to flock to Jesus’ disciples rather than John the Baptist who didn’t mind his ministry dwindling: ‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (v.30). This is why the church celebrates John the Baptist’s birthday on the 25th June after the longest day of the year on the 21st June in the Northern hemisphere – the nights are just starting to become longer. Jesus’ birthday is the 25th December – after the shortest day on the 21st – to mark the coming of the light.

The church is the bride of Jesus. He is the bridegroom. John the Baptist was the friend who was full of joy when he heard the voice of the bridegroom (v.29). Jesus came from heaven and is above all. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his conception and the Holy Spirit will also live in us when we become baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are greater than John the Baptist, because the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ has made us justified and righteous in the eyes of our heavenly Father.

‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him’ (v.36).

Psalm 55:12-23

It is particularly hurtful to be betrayed by a friend or close colleague.

When King David called out to the Lord, he was always saved (v.16). God ransomed him unharmed from the battle waged against him.

Jesus ransomed us from judgement for our sins by the shedding of his precious blood. He will always save us if we renounce and repent of our sins and turn to him with belief.

Many people are slick orators but their words are evil weapons. They plan war and disaster. Many will never change their ways and will have no fear of God until their death and the eternal separation from God they have chosen.

We should trust in God and cast our cares on him. He will sustain us.

If we have any worries in our life, we should praise, worship and speak in tongues. This perfect prayer from the Holy Spirit will build up our inner self to know that God ‘will never let the righteous fall’ (v.22).

Image: Image by Gabriel Ballerini from Pixabay

Becoming ‘Born Again’ / Coming into the Light: May 2nd 2021

Joshua 21:20-22:34

Cities were allotted to the Levites (the priests) from all the remaining tribes of Israel. The Levites were to run the refuge cities, such as Shechem, where those accused of murder could shelter before a fair trial.

God had given Israel all the land he had sworn to their forefathers (v.43). The Israelites had acted in faith, conquered and settled there. How wonderful it is to work in partnership with God on a major project. God gave them rest on every side from their enemies. Every one of the Lord’s good promised to the house of Israel was fulfilled (v.45). Praise the Lord. If we become baptized and believe our Lord Jesus will fulfil his promise to us: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’ (Mark 16:16).

The Reubenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh had faithfully battled for the other Israelite tribes to conquer the rest of the promised land even after they had been given territory of their own. They had faithfully fulfilled the promise they had made to Moses. They had riskily left their families behind on the other side of the Jordan in Gilead while they fought. I would assume that God supernaturally protected them while their fighting men were away or they could have been easy pickings for the Canaanites. Joshua blessed these soldiers for their faithful service and sent them home. They did not return empty-handed. They had accumulated massive herds of livestock, precious metals and other plunder taken from their enemies. When we are faithful to our word and work for God, we can also be blessed financially and materially. He warned these departing tribes not to forget God and to always: ‘love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul’ (22:5).

It was an amicable parting of ways as these faithful fighters returned to Gilead but soon there was a massive misunderstanding between them and the rest of Israel. On their journey back home, they constructed for themselves am imposing altar on the Israelite side of the Jordan. This appeared to be scandalous. The only altar to God was meant to be the one before the official tabernacle. The other Israelites were scandalised and ‘gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them; (v.12). Fortunately, before the fighting started, the Israelites sent the son of the priest and a delegation from each of the other tribes to find out why they had done this. They assumed that the tribes in Gilead had already started worshipping demonic entities and this unauthorised new altar was for pagan worship but they wisely went on a fact-finding mission first. They had genuine concerns for their future having witnessed God’s wrath against those who were unfaithful to him.

The tribes who had returned to Gilead were mortified that they intentions had been misinterpreted. They had built this new altar, not for offering sacrifices, but to witness that they would only worship at the official Israelite sanctuary. It was just a replica in memory of the official one, a witness that, even though they lived far away on the other side of the river Jordan, they were still part of Israel worshipping the one God. Phinehas the priest and the leaders were relieved at this explanation and explained it to the rest of the Israelites. They were glad to hear this and war was averted.

The replica altar was given a name: ‘A Witness Between Is that the Lord is God’ (v.34).

It is refreshing to read of a society that is so concerned about not upsetting God. The Israelites had learned through hard experiences that things go much more smoothly for a country when people diligently follow God’s laws. Many of our politicians seem to have no such fear with their condonement of divorce, abortion and lack of respect for Sundays. We reap what we sow.

John 3:1-21

Nicodemus, from the Jewish ruling council came to see Jesus at night. He confirmed that all the council knew Jesus had come from God, ‘for no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ (v.2).

This is why there is no logic to people deciding to be an atheist / humanist / secularist. Jesus was a real historical figure who proved he was the son of God by performing amazing public miracles that were witnessed by thousands of people. If you do not believe in these historical facts, you stand condemned. People refuse to come to the light for fear that their evil deeds will be exposed by it. If you call evil things good and good things evil you will hate the light of truth and avoid it.

Here we have one of the most beautiful phrases in the Bible: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (3:16).

We now come to one of the most fascinating discussions in the Bible. Jesus cryptically said, ‘I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’ (3:3).

Nicodemus was as puzzled as the rest of Christianity: ‘”How can a man be born again when he is old”, Nicodemus asked (v.4).

What does it mean to be a ‘born-again’ Christian and, as it is so vital, how does one become one?

I would regard myself as ‘born again’ as I know God loves me, I love him, I find great joy in reading his word and want to live in a way that pleases him. However, looking back on my life when exactly was I ‘born again’?

I was baptized at the age of one. I went to a Christian school, which had prayers and hymns in assembly and weekly chapel services. My whole class studied the Bible for an O level in Divinity when I was fifteen. My parents occasionally took me to church. However, none of this stopped me carrying out teenage sins or gave me a burning urge to study Christianity further. I always knew that God existed and most days prayed the ‘Our Father’ prayer. The Mother Church would say that when I was baptized, even though I was an infant and knew virtually nothing about it, I would have been given the Holy Spirit, my personal sin would have been washed away and the Original sin I had inherited from Adam would also have gone. The reason I sinned when older was due to the typical human tendency to sin and evil termed ‘concupiscence’.

When I was forty, I visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome and suddenly the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins. He convinced me that there would be judgement and I needed to get my faith life sorted. I joined a course and became a Catholic becoming confirmed at the Easter Vigil. Before and after this, I had a burning desire to find out more about God and Jesus. In theological terms, my confirmation would have strengthened me and activated the Holy Spirit within me to be a more powerful witness for Jesus. However, soon after becoming a fully active member of the church I became very sick and felt like I was dying. I made a dramatic recovery after a charismatic priest prayed a healing / deliverance prayer over me.

A couple of years later, I attended a ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ course and prayed to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. A week later, I started to pray in the Spirit. However, I didn’t do it very much or for very long and started attending a church that was undynamic. A couple of years ago I was laid low by a spiritual attack and I only recovered after starting to also attend a charismatic Pentecostal church. I prayed ‘The Sinner’s prayer’ more than once: ‘Dear Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I believe that you died and rose again from the dead to save me from my sins. I want to be with you forever. Forgive me all the sins I have committed against you. I open my heart to you and ask you to come into my heart and life and be my personal Saviour. In Jesus name. Amen’. God healed me from spiritual attack and drove out the enemy that was causing it. However, I still had issues with habitual sin. God finally strengthened me and sorted me out when I handed over the reins to him and started to pray in tongues for up to an hour a day. The temptation to commit sin melted away.

So looking back, I did receive a seed of the Holy Spirit at my infant baptism. This gradually grew until it burst into life during my trip to Rome. My confirmation made me a stronger enemy of the devil and he tried to snuff me out. The Holy Spirit started to activate more spiritual gifts inside me after my baptism in the Holy Spirit but the true process of sanctification only started once I gave up trying to conquer sin by myself and handed the reins over to God.

The one thing all Christians should agree on is that baptism is vital for salvation. A Christian friend, who feels she is born again, said to me ‘I don’t feel I need to be baptized’. But feelings are irreverent. You might ‘not feel’ you need to possess a valid visa to enter foreign countries but if you turn up on their border without one, you can be turned away. Heaven follows laws and justice. For all we know, there might be a demon with a list on a clipboard objecting to every one who turns up at the gate of heaven without the permanent stamp of baptism on their soul. Baptism permanently marks us as a child of God.

My Pentecostal friends would say that once you have said the ‘Sinners Prayer’ and really believed it you are saved. Also get baptized, get a Bible and read it. However, I am slightly concerned that if my friend thinks she is saved without yet going through the legalistic step of baptism, that our feelings might deceive us in this matter. The gift of eternal life is so precious, we should not skimp on any requirements that Jesus stipulated. Should we be the judge of whether we believe? Shouldn’t that be down to God’s judgement. My Catholic friends would say we cannot presume we are saved, we have to live and die in hope of God’s mercy on us but that might be too gloomy. Not many Catholics speak in tongues. If it was more common, this supernatural proof of the Holy Spirit living within us should give us full faith in our salvation because of Ephesians 1:13 – 14: ‘When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.’

This is how Pentecostals can be so certain that they are saved. Praying in Tongues prove that the Holy Spirit lives within us. His presence within us is a deposit guaranteeing our our inheritance. Acts 5:32 says: ‘We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him’. Hallelujah.

God can do what he wants. If he wants to change any rules, that’s his prerogative. Jesus promised one of the criminals on the cross that he would be in paradise with Jesus that day and it was unlikely the criminal was baptized. We trust in God’s mercy for the souls of children who die before baptism including aborted children. Catholics even believe that unreached people, who have never heard the gospel message, can be saved if they live righteous lives and would have responded to the call to be baptized if they had been told of its necessity. All of us can live righteous lives in accordance with God’s laws that have been inscribed on everyone’s hearts. When Peter was preaching to the Gentile Cornelius, in Acts 10, the Holy Spirit came upon all in his household who heard his message. After they had received the Spirit and had began to speak in tongues and praise God, Peter then orders them to be baptized. So there appears to be no hard and fast rule. We do receive the Holy Spirit during baptism but we could also be ‘born again’ prior to this – either by devotedly asking Jesus to come into our lives or from hearing the word of God. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is inside us, that we have called on the name of the Lord and confessed ‘Jesus is Lord’ and knowing we have been baptized strengthens our faith so we know we are beloved children of God and will receive God’s gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Hallelujah.

Being ‘born again’ does seem to be more than infant baptism. It is an adult consenting encounter with the power of the Holy Spirit that enkindles the fire of faith within us empowering us to manifest the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. We must be ‘born of the Spirit’ (3:8). There seems to be a single time in people’s lives when this happens and people do not forget this conversion experience. It is a memorable moment of transformation and turning fully to God. Speaking to dynamic Christians they can usually recall when it dawned on them that God exists and they wanted to worship him. My wife came this conclusion when she standing on a beautiful hill in the Cotswolds. There was wonderful light, a soft gentle breeze and the quiet peace of nature. The beauty and tranquillity of God’s creation touched her heart and she turned to him.

Jesus confirmed that no-one had yet gone into heaven apart from ‘the one who came from heaven’ (v.13) i.e. him. All the dead of the world up until Jesus’ crucifixion were stuck in hell. The righteous dead were released into heaven after Jesus died, descended into hell and preached the gospel to them. Moses in the desert lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole to save the Israelites from the wrath of God that had been unleashed to punish them for their sins. Jesus would be lifted up on the cross, so that if we look to him and believe in him, the wrath of God because of our sins will be transferred to him. Jesus paid the full ransom price for us once and for all through this precious blood. Jesus came to save us, not condemn us.

Psalm 55:1-11

David prayed for his prayers and pleas to be heard (v.1) He was being troubled by his thoughts. He was distraught and suffering (v.3).

Poor King David was in a bad way for someone of such unshakeable faith. He longed for the wings of a dove so that he could fly from his troubles (v.6). He wanted to hurry to his place of shelter. However, all of us – especially Kings – have to stand and face our demons and we get the strength to do this from the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, the dove of peace, is within us. If we are distraught, we can flee to him by praying in tongues. Handing over our vocal cords to him so that he can pray the perfect prayer for us.

We have a massive advantage over King David we can know Jesus and he will come to live within us and give us shelter. Jesus said: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).

Image: The Chosen press photos (press.thechosen.tv), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Baptism of Jesus / Call of the Disciples: 30th April 2021

Joshua 17:1-18:28

The Israelites struck a blow for women’s rights as the daughters of the tribe of Manasseh received an inheritance among the sons (v.6).

The land of Gilead was assigned to the rest of the descendants of Manasseh. They went on to make a renowned rare, perfumed healing balm that inspired this beautiful song. The Balm of Gilead is interpreted as a spiritual medicine that is able to heal Israel (and sinners in general) i.e. Jesus’ Christ’s precious blood that he poured out for us on the cross.

The Canaanites put up strong resistance in areas that they were determined not to give up (v.12), However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labour (v.13). The Canaanites were a sophisticated fighting force and had iron chariots (v.16) – formidably effective when fighting on a plain. Joshua encouraged the people of Joseph: ‘You are numerous and very powerful’ (v.17). They would be able to conquer the land with God’s help despite the chariots of their enemies.

The tent of meeting was set up at Shiloh (18:1). Seven tribes were still to receive an inheritance and so three men from each tribe were sent out to survey the land. It would then be split into seven parts and allocated by lot. The only proviso was that the tribe of Joseph would remain in the North and Judah would remain in the South. Joshua showed his wisdom and trust in the Lord. Casting lots, in the presence of the Lord, would ensure that the land was allocated as God desired. God can influence the role of the dice when required. Amongst my many sins as a teenager, I used to play the role-playing game: ‘Dungeons and Dragons‘. I have since renounced and repented of such activities. Before starting, you have to choose to play as one of 12 character classes, such as fighters, clerics or sorcerers (I told you this was a dodgy activity). You then make decisions, while imagining you are this fantasy character, about how to progress in various adventures (made up by an imaginative friend, termed a ‘Dungeon Master’). The idea is to progress through various adventures, nurturing your character, making him (or her) stronger and gathering treasure by battling legendary creatures. The outcome of fights are determined by rolling various strangely-shaped multicoloured dice. I always choose to be a paladin – a charismatic / fancy type of knight. I was always particularly attracted to the word ‘charisma’. One day, our ‘Dungeon Master’ was in a particularly vindictive mood and set up our adventure so we would have to fight the powerful demon, Asmodeus, one of the Biblical big-hitters in the book of Tobit. He basically wanted to kill off all our characters whom we had nurtured for months. I waded into battle – a certain suicide mission as I would have to roll sixes continually on a normal dice to win. However, there was an option to invoke the angel Gabriel for help in the battle and, lo and behold, after asking for angelic assistance every time I rolled the dice in fantasy ‘combat’ with the demon, I rolled a six. I rolled about twenty sixes in a row and defeated this virtually invincible foe. The probability of this occurring is infinitesimally small. Someone was controlling the outcome of those dice rolls to show that when I ask for help, evil can be defeated no matter how impossible it seems. There are other forces in the room when people play games like this. Don’t do it kids, stick to less ‘spiritual’ games. I would say ‘Monopoly’ but that combines being immoral with being incredibly dull. Maybe kick a football around outside instead.

John 1:29-51

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him and proclaimed ‘Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ The Holy Spirit residing in John gave him a prophetic word of knowledge allowing him to tell the future of his holy relative. The blood of the Passover lambs applied to the door frames and lintels of the Israelites’ houses in Egypt protected them from death as the destroying angel passed over. Jesus’ blood saves us from our sins, destroying death and opening the gates of heaven for us.

Even though Jesus was born six months after John, Jesus was ‘before him’ (v.30) as ‘he was with God in the beginning’ of all things (v.2).

John the Baptist was the new ‘Elijah’ predicted in Malachi (3:5-6): ‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to your children, and the hearts of the children to their parents’.

John revealed the reason he had been baptizing. It was so that Jesus ‘might be revealed to Israel’ (v.31). John had seen the Holy Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Jesus. John testified that Jesus ‘is the Son of God’ (v.34). Jesus was 100% God and 100% human – a unique mathematical mystery.

Some pastors say that Jesus didn’t perform any miracles before the Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism. I don’t think we can be so sure as Jesus was 100% filled with the Holy Spirit from the time of his conception. If he didn’t perform miracles in his ‘hidden years’, it would have been because he freely chose to lay aside his supernatural Godly powers until he was publicly revealed as the Son of God. We will find out more of the story when we get to heaven. I remember Monty Python publishing an amusing school report for God that complained about Him parting the waters of the swimming pool, ‘which was both unsporting and dangerous’: https://friarminor.blogspot.com/2009/09/monty-pythons-report-card-for-god.html

Andrew was the first disciple to follow Jesus. Verse 35 shows that he was originally John’s disciple but went after Jesus when John identified him as ‘the Lamb of God’. I have visited Saint Andrew’s tomb in Edinburgh cathedral. The first thing that Andrew did after finding Jesus was to find his brother, Simon and tell him ‘We have found the Messiah’ (v.41). Andrew brought his brother to Jesus, who renamed him ‘Peter’, which translates as rock. It is one of our roles as disciples to bring people to meet Christ. Jesus will have a great future mapped out for them.

The next day Jesus finds Philip and asks him to follow him. Philip found Nathanael (who many people think is the same person as Bartholomew) and told him to ‘come and see Jesus’ (v.46). Church tradition is that Nathanael / Bartholomew later carried a translation of Matthew’s gospel to India.

Nathanael was sceptical about Jesus when he heard that he was from Nazareth. ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (v.46). My wife pours a similar amount of light-hearted scorn on me for growing up in Essex. Nazareth did not have a good reputation see: https://www.gotquestions.org/Matthew-2-23-Jesus-Nazarene.html

Jesus was able to instantly assess Nathanael’s character, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false’ (v.47). He had seen him under a fig tree before Philip had called him.

Nathanael blurted out, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel’ (v.49). Both Jesus and these early disciples are all being moved by the Holy Spirit to utter prophetic words of knowledge.

Jesus saw in Nathanael some of the qualities of the patriarch Jacob and promised him the same sort of vision that Jacob had experienced: ‘You shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’ (v.51).

It is touching to read how these disciples started their life with Jesus and remember how they kept their faith until their violent deaths. Saint Andrew was crucified on 30 November 60AD, by order of the Roman governor Aegeas. He was tied to an X-shaped cross in Greece, and this is represented by the white cross on the Scottish flag. Saint Peter was crucified upside down in Rome during the reign of the tyrannical Emperor Nero. Saint Philip was scourged and crucified in Egypt. Nathanael / Bartholomew the apostle was either flayed alive and beheaded in Armenia or crucified upside down (head downward) like Saint Peter. Even if they could have foreseen their eventual appaling fate, this men would still have chosen to follow Jesus. https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/64320/Local-News/How-did-the-apostles-die

Many people go on holidays and unwisely visit temples that are not Christian – from which you can bring back unholy oppressing spirits. It is much better to visit great Christian cathedrals and shrines when you are are abroad. So far in my life, I have visited various magnificent cathedrals preserving the relics of Saints Peter, Mark and Andrew. I have also visited the relatively simple grave of Saint Patrick in Northern Ireland that was being guarded by an impressive raven. I would love to visit Santiago de Compostela in Spain to visit the tomb of Saint James. Why go on holiday and just bake on a beach when you can enhance your Christian faith by seeing that these heroes of faith were real people? They battled for Jesus and heroically died for their faith. As far as God is concerned, they are still alive They will intercede for us in heaven, we just have to think about them and ask them in prayer.

Proverbs 10

The book of Proverbs often mentions wisdom. God had bestowed Solomon with more wisdom than anyone else on the planet but Solomon still messed up his life – through being seduced by his hundreds of foreign wives to worship their deities.

Before his fall from grace, his temporarily righteous mouth did bring forth wisdom (v.1)

The mouth of the wicked knows only what is perverse. We may have strange thoughts pop into our minds during the day. Lewd jokes or scurrilous gossip. We should bat these thoughts away in the name of Jesus as they only take on a life of their own when we actually vocalise them. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can know what is fitting to say.

God hates people who cheat others (11:1). We should be guided by our integrity.

Our wealth will be no use to us when faced with death or the end of the world. We will only be rescued by righteousness, which we have obtained through the precious blood of Christ. This righteousness makes a straight way for us and delivers us from death and decay. Christ’s righteousness will rescue us from trouble. Our hope does not perish when we die, we hope for everlasting life through the mercy of God because of our belief in his son, Jesus.

Image: Ottavio Vannini (1585-c. 1643), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Gibeonite Deception / Jesus before Pilate: April 25th 2021

Joshua 8:1-9:15

God reassured Joshua that he was back on his side, now that the disobedience of Achan (who stole articles from Jericho that had devoted to demonic entities) had been dealt with: ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged’ (v.1).

We can all rely on God’s promises when he clearly speaks to us. God told Joshua that the city of Ai had been delivered into the hands of the Israelites – all they had to do was attach it. After the upcoming victory, the Israelites would be allowed to take all their possessions and livestock from the defeated city. Ai had obviously not been quite as corrupt as Jericho. God is a master strategist and the Holy Spirit, the master of wisdom, will tell us the best way to accomplish any holy task. Joshua was instructed to set an ambush behind the city.

Joshua drew out all the fighting men from Ai and made them pursue the Israelites. Every single man unwisely left the city, It was a simple matter for the Israelite ambush hidden to the West to enter the undefended city, capture it and set it on fire. The main army of the Israelites turned to fight their pursuers once the city had been captured and the men from the Israelite ambush left the captured city and attacked the army of Ai from behind. God had formulated a perfect military strategy. The Israelites killed all the 12,000 inhabitants and hung the king of Ai on a tree. The city was turned into a permanent heap of ruins. Killing all the men and women sounds harsh by modern standards but they were all worshippers of demonic entities and they couldn’t be allowed to pollute the faith of the Israelites and corrupt them. The Israelites had to follow God’s precise instructions to preserve their precious relationship with him. They depended on his favour completely. They took all the livestock and plunder from the devastated city but only because God had permitted them to do so (v.27).

Joshua renewed the covenant with God at Mount Ebal. He built an altar of uncut stones on which they offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings (v.31). Joshua copied the law of Moses onto stones and he read out all the law again to the whole assembly, including women and children and foreigners who lived among them (v.35).

Things were looking up for the Israelites again. If they kept being obedient to God, following his laws and carrying out his instructions perfectly, everything would work out easily for them.

All the kings West of the Jordan heard about the total annihilation of Jericho and Ai and came together to make war against Israel. So what! They didn’t have the one true God fighting for them. Bring it on. It was similar to when the modern nation of Israel was established in 1948. The Jews were almost immediately attacked by Arab armies from five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The aggressors were never going to win. The Israelites are God’s holy people and he had promised that territory to them.

The people of Gibeon decided they could only survive the onslaught of the Israelites by trickery. They sent a very ragged delegation, pretended that they were from a ‘distant country’ and asked for a treaty (9:6).

The Israelites were slightly dubious, They couldn’t make a treaty with someone who lived near them. as they would need to take over their territory and annihilate them. The Gibeonites said they were from ‘a very distant country’ (v.9). They pretended they had travelled for weeks by packing mouldy bread, worn-out sacks, old wineskins and by wearing old clothes and patched sandals.

The Israelites made yet another terrible mistake. They did not ask the Lord whether the Gibeonites were telling the truth before Joshua made a peace treaty with them (v.15). Moses would have asked the Lord. We should consult with God throughout the day about any decisions we have to make. The Holy Spirit living within us will let us know what is true and what is our best course of action. Secular people say: ‘follow your gut feeling’. As baptized Christians, we know that the font of all knowledge, the Holy Spirit, does not live in our guts. He lives in our hearts.

Luke 22:63-23:25

The chief priests asked their captive, Jesus, ‘Are you then the Son of God?‘ Jesus replied ‘You are right in saying I am.’ (v.70).

‘I am’ is a reference to the most holy name of God revealed in Exodus 3:13-14: ‘God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you’.

In John 8:58, Jesus said, ‘before Abraham was born, I am’. He was claiming equality with God by using the holy name.

I totally agree with the Jews that no-one should ever say the formal name of God, the one beginning with a ‘Y’. It is totally holy and worthy of our utmost respect. We should always say ‘The Lord’ instead.

The chief priests tried to have Jesus condemned by Pilate by falsely accusing Jesus of opposing ‘payment of taxes to Caesar’ (23:2). They thought that a threat to the Roman income would be a good way to get Pilate fired up.

Pilate was keen to release Jesus. Pilate had no concern for a dispute about someone claiming to be king of a conquered nation: ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man’ (23:4).

However, Pilate was too weak to let Jesus go straight away. He sent him to the evil Herod for a second opinion. This Herod was the son of the King Herod who had tried to kill Jesus, as soon as he was born, by massacring all the young male children in the surrounding area.

Herod was ‘greatly pleased’ (v.8) to see Jesus. He had enjoyed listening to John the Baptist, until he had his head cut off. Many evil people are fascinated by holy men. They are drawn to the power and truth of their words. God always draws people to him, no matter what their background and reputation is. Herod wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle to order as a kind of parlour magic trick. ‘Jesus gave him no answer’ (v.11) so Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. They sent Jesus back to Pilate and that day, the former enemies, Herod and Pilate were reconciled. Quite often, evil people who hate God find they can get on with other groups or individuals they normally dislike if they can unite in support of an evil act, such as abortion,

Both Pilate and Herod were prepared to let Jesus go after unfairly ‘punishing him’ to show off their power. There was ‘no basis for your charges against him’ (v.14).

The crowd shouted for a convicted murderer, Barabbas, to be released instead of the innocent Jesus (v.18-19).

Barabbas’s full name was actually ‘Jesus Barabbas’ – as Jesus was a relatively popular name at the time. Jesus meaning ‘God is salvation’. Barabbas is an Aramaic name meaning ‘Son of the Father’. So the choice for the crowd was between two men both named Jesus, one called ‘Son of the Father’ and the other one actually son of the Father.

Jesus died in place of a convicted murderer as he was also dying to release the entire human race from the death sentence for our sins.

For the third time, Pilate tried to release Jesus but the shouts of the crooked crowd prevailed. Pilate caved in to the pressure. He decided to crucify our innocent saviour just because the crowd kept on shouting. Pilate was guilty. Leaders have to continue with the strength of their convictions, they cannot cave in to pressure.

We have to keep our faith to our final breath and refrain from mortal sin that could jeopardise our place in heaven. Many pastors teach, ‘Once saved, always saved’ but that is nonsense. When we are saved, we have to stop sinning to remain saved. A person cannot say they are saved and then continue to work in an abortion clinic killing unborn children everyday. They will go to hell without full renouncement of their profession and repentance. A serial killer can’t continue with their crimes after meeting Jesus without divine retribution. The biggest threats to our everlasting salvation are the grave sins of adultery and murder that are so commonplace in our modern society. Everyday medical practices such as IVF, or the morning-after contraceptive pill, open up the opportunity to kill a human being just as the baying crowd participated in our innocent Saviour being killed. Every fertilised embryo is a human being. If we have helped created them, we need to be very careful what happens to each and every one of them.

The Mother Church teaches that no-one can be certain of their salvation. We know that baptism is necessary to be saved but the judgement on our individual salvation belongs to God. Presumption is a sin and exists in two kinds. We can presume upon on our own goodness (hoping to able to save ourselves without help from above) or we presume ‘upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit) (CCC,2092). We all have to hope in God’s mercy and die with ‘God, have mercy on me a sinner’ on our lips.

Psalm 51:1-9

We have a beautiful psalm today containing a wonderful everyday prayer: ‘Have mercy on me O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin’ (v:1-2).

A Catholic priest prays for this washing and cleansing before the prayer of consecration in the Holy Mass. The priest must wash his hands at this point because he is about to touch the very bread of life himself.

We were all sinful at birth (v.5), sinful from the time our mothers conceived us because we inherited ‘original sin’ from our ancestor Adam. We are all born with an in-built urge to do bad things and be disobedient to God. We are all born with a sin which is ‘the death of the soul’ (CCC, 403). We have an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence”. When we are baptized, all original sin and personal sin is erased and we turn back to God. However, we remain weakened and inclined to evil and so need to invite the Holy Spirit fully into our life to give us power to overcome sin. The Holy Spirit living in our hearts will sanctify us (make us holy) if we allow him to.

The Holy Spirit will also teach us wisdom in our most inmost place (v.6).

When we are baptized we are cleansed from all sin and are ‘whiter than snow’ (v.7).

When we make a valid confession, it is like receiving a loving hug from our Father, welcoming us back home. Our sins aren’t just forgotten, they are completely deleted. If you are ever asked to attend an exorcism, be warned; a demon possessing someone likes to name out loud the sins of everyone else present in the room. The more embarrassing and incriminating the better. It’s as if a demon can just read our sins out from a book. We must be sure to attend an exorcism with no unconfessed sins. Then the demon can say nothing about us, our sins have been deleted from God’s face. God has blotted out our iniquity (v.9). Thanks be to God.

Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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