The Siege of Samaria / Paul the Roman Citizen before the Sanhedrin: July 3rd 2021

2 Kings 6:24-8:15

The Arameans besieged Israel’s capital city, Samaria. There was a great famine because the siege was so long. People had to resort to eating each others babies and the king abdicated from his responsibility to help them in their need (2 Kings 6:27).

Even though the Israelite king, Joram, was wearing sackcloth under his robes, God was not responding. The king lost patience and decided to get revenge on God by executing his representative, Elisha. Elisha was remarkably calm about this and prophesied that by the next day, food prices would tumble. One of the king’s officers doubted his words and Elisha told him that he would see this happen but not eat any of the newly abundant food (2 Kings 7:2).

Four men with leprosy at the city gate had decided to go to the Aramean camp as it was their one chance of surviving the siege. They reached the camp to find the Aramean army had run away. God had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of a great army advancing on them (2 Kings 7:6). The men with leprosy ate and drank in the abandoned army tents and hid treasure. Eventually, they decided they should report back to the city that the siege had been lifted. They were compelled to announce the good news to rescue others (2 Kings 7:9). The king was wary that this was a trap but after he had sent chariots to confirm the Arameans had fled, the people ran out of the city and plundered the Aramean camp.

Before I was born again, I was similar to a leper hanging around the city gates. I was unclean and disfigured by a life-destroying condition, habitual sin.  I knew I was a different ‘species’ to secular, worldly people but I still hung around their gates. Like the lepers, I realised this halfway house would only result in death and so I took the plunge and turned my back on the secular world. I ventured out to find out more about Jesus. When I did, I found abundant treasure and food for my soul as my demons fled at the sound of God’s word. I took God’s word, I consumed it and saved some for hard times. After a while, I realised I could not keep the good news about salvation to myself and started to testify; it was my duty to save others. Some people chose to accept life and eat the bread of eternal life, others were suspicious and thought it may be a trap. Jesus offers abundant life for all that run towards him.    

Food prices tumbled as Elisha had predicted. The officer who had doubted Elisha’s prophecy was killed in the stampede as people rushed out of the city to get food.

If we hear prophetic words, we should rejoice and have faith that they will come to pass. God does not like disbelief.

Elisha had warned the lady, whose son he had brought back to life, to leave Israel for seven years to avoid the famine. She had gone to live with the Philistines. On her return she went to beg the king for her property just at the exact moment that Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, was telling the king about how her son had been brought back to life. The king decreed that all her possessions and the income from her land for the last seven years should be given to her. The benefits from her faith in God and hospitality towards Elisha kept materializing.

Elisha went to Damascus while the king of Aram was ill. The king, Ben-Hadad, asked Hazael to take a gift to Elisha and ask the prophet if he would recover. Elisha predicted that he would recover but also die, which isn’t the best prognosis. Elisha could see the wickedness in Hazael and started to weep (2 Kings 8:11-12).

Elisha predicted that Hazael would do terrible harm to the Israelites when he became king. When Hazael returned to the king he told him that he would recover. The king of Aram must have been very relieved to have heard this prophesy from a world-class prophet. Unfortunately, the next day Hazael murdered the king and succeeded him. One wonders how much ambition Hazael had in the back of his mind before Elisha told him he would be king. Did the prophesy initiate or just speed up his wicked crime? Prophets don’t seem to have much of a filter. They just pronounce the Word of God as directed even if it might give bad people confidence to carry out their evil crimes. However, God must have wanted Hazael to succeed Ben-Hadad at this moment in history. God will manipulate evil people in order to achieve his good purposes in the end (‘the Lord determines our steps’ (Prov.16:9).

Acts 22:22-23:11

Paul, under arrest, was going to be flogged and questioned by the Roman soldiers to find out why the Jerusalem riot had occurred. However, Paul was from Tarsus and a Roman citizen. He asked whether it was legal for a Roman citizen to be flogged without a trial (Acts 22:25). This alarmed the commander of the Roman soldiers who should not have put Paul in chains. He released him the next day but had him stand in front of the Sanhedrin.

Paul told them that he had fulfilled his duty to God in all good conscience. The Chief Priest ordered that he should be punched in the mouth for this statement. Appearing before this group of priests could be a brutal affair.

Paul tactically started an argument between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Paul was a Pharisee and he, like the others, acknowledged the resurrection of the dead, angels and spirits. Paul was on trial because of his hope in the resurrection of Jesus. The Sadducees had a different theology and there was a great uproar between the different factions. The Roman commander had to rescue Paul from the mob and bring him to the barracks.

Jesus stood near to Paul the following night and encouraged him. Paul would now be called to testify about Jesus in Rome, the centre of the Roman empire (Acts 23:11). Saint Paul is a model for us as regards confidently testifying about Jesus no matter how testing the circumstances.

Proverbs 16:8-17

God does not like injustice. If we work in business, we should put righteousness above dishonest profit.

A wise leader takes pleasure in hearing the truth, even if it is a rebuke. Do not work for a company where only ‘yes people’ rise to the top and honesty is punished. We should avoid evil as we travel on our career highway.

An angry manager in a company can destroy people’s careers and their lives. A wise person will appease them, so their face brightens and they gain their favour.

We might imagine we will work at the same company until we retire only to find ourselves suddenly made redundant or sacked. However, God always has the best intentions for our lives (Romans 12:2). Our mediocre personal plans might not match God’s desires for our life and so he takes charge to map out our steps (Prov.16:9).

Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, 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

The Road to Damascus / Saul’s Conversion: June 14th 2021

2 Samuel 22:1-23:7

David sang a magnificent song of praise to the Lord after he had been delivered from all his enemies.

God is also our rock, fortress, deliverer, stronghold, refuge and Saviour (2 Sam.22:2-3). He is our shield. God rescues us from our worthless sinful lives and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, transforms us into his powerful, holy ambassadors on earth. We are made in God’s image, we are made as God’s image. Our rescue is made complete when he grants us our desire for eternal life with him.

Our Lord is worthy of praise. He will hear us when we call out in our distress, draw us out of deep waters and rescue us from powerful foes.

The Lord will deal with us according to our righteousness. Jesus has made us righteous through his death on the cross but, if we sin after our baptism, we need to be quick to confess it and ask forgiveness. ‘According to the cleanness’ of our hands will God reward us (2 Sam.22:21).

Even though David had committed adultery and murder, he had never forgotten God. He repented and renounced his sins. He was thus able to say that he was blameless before him and he had not turned away from God’s decrees (2 Sam.22:22-24).

God’s eyes are on the haughty to bring them low. He loves the humble. If we are faithful, blameless and pure, God will show us theses same attributes.

Jesus is the living light of the world (2 Sam.22:29).

God’s ways are perfect and his word is flawless. God arms us with strength for battle. He makes our feet sure so we can stand on the heights.

God delivered David from the attacks of his own people time and again and preserved him as the head of nations. God avenges us and sets us free from our enemies. He gives us great victories and shows us unfailing kindness. We are all anointed as his priests, prophets, kings and adopted children through our baptism.

We must praise and exalt God.

The Spirit of the Lord spoke through King David in beautiful psalms. Our Queen, Elizabeth II, has always had a strong faith and is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning (2 Sam.23:4). The Spirit of God speaks through us when we pray and sing in tongues bringing strength, healing and deliverance.

David knew that God had made an everlasting covenant with him. It was arranged and secured in every part. God will bring to fruition our salvation if we are baptized and believe in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and invite him into our lives as our personal saviour.

Acts 9:1-31

Saul, breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples, asked to go to Damascus to capture Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem.

Saul had a life-changing encounter with Jesus as he neared Damascus (Acts 9:4). Jesus asked Saul from heaven why Saul was persecuting him and by ‘him’, Jesus meant the men and women making up his living body, the newly formed church.

Saul went blind for three days and did not eat or drink anything (Acts 9:9).

The Lord called a disciple in Damascus, Ananias, to visit Saul and place his hands on him to restore his sight. Ananias was reluctant to go because he knew how much harm Saul had done to the disciples but the Lord said that he had great plans for him. Saul would carry Jesus’ name both before the Gentiles and the people of Israel (Acts 9:15).

When Ananias prayed over Saul, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. Saul got up and was baptised, took some food and regained his strength (Acts 9:19). I wonder who put the scales over Saul’s eyes. Scales are significant in the Bible. The giant Goliath wore ‘scale armour’ ‘when he confronted the people of God and was defeated by David (1 Sam.17:5). Serpents have scales and so Goliath may have represented the Philistine’s deity, Dagon, or the devil himself. Saul had been inspired to persecute and murder Christians and this desire may have come from demonic oppression. Therefore, I think it may have been the devil that blinded Saul so that he would not have been able to see Jesus on the road to Damascus. The devil had given Saul both religious and physical blindness. However, Jesus’ words along were sufficient to convert this murderous zealot. Saul was healed by the faithful prayer of Ananias. The devil was foiled in the end because not only did Paul become one of the most productive apostles of all time he was also not able to see Jesus during the Damascus Christophany and so was able to write: ‘We live by faith and not by sight’ (2 Cor.5:7).

Shortly after I became a confirmed Christian, I was struck down by the devil and felt like I was dying. A local deliverance priest prayed for me and restored my health. I needed someone with strong faith and spiritual authority to banish the oppression from my body. Many new Christians need an Ananias in our lives too help strengthen and deliver us.

After several days with the disciples in Damascus, Saul preached in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Thanks to his first-class education and knowledge of the scriptures, he was able to prove to all audiences that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9:22).

Saul was such an effective teacher that the Jews conspired to kill him. He was secretly lowered in a basket from the city walls so that he could return to Jerusalem. The disciples there were still afraid of him but he was accepted after Barnabas spoke on his behalf. It is great to have fellow Christians who know our personal journeys with the Lord and can provide references for us. Paul then spoke boldly in the name of the Lord. The Grecian Jews tired to kill him but his new Christian friends rescued him, sending him first to Caesarea and then to Tarsus. It must have been frustrating for Paul to have been sent away but he wouldn’t have lasted long if everywhere he went, people tried to kill him. He needed to spend some time refining his ministry before he would be called on to evangelise all the Gentiles.

Then the church enjoyed a time of peace and growth, strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit.

Many ‘born again’ Christians can remember the exact day and location that they gave their life to Jesus. We all have our ‘Road to Damascus’ moment when we are rescued and turn to the Lord. Mine was on holiday in Rome when I cast my eyes upon Michelangelo’s painting ‘The Last Judgment’, the massive fresco that covers the entire altar wall in the Sistine Chapel. It depicts the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. I realised that I needed to fully accept Jesus into my life in order to have hope for salvation.

Psalm 73:15-28

In Michelangelo’s magnificent painting ‘The Last Judgement‘ the damned descend to hell on the left side of Jesus (Psalm 73:18-19). Those who are far from God and unfaithful to him will perish (Psalm 73:27).

We want to be with the saved ascending to heaven on his right.

As a teenager I did what I wanted to do. I thought I wasn’t too bad relative to other people but ‘I was senseless and ignorant‘ (Psalm 73:22). I was on a gradual slippery slope to hell. However, Jesus rescued me and the Holy Spirit convicted me of my disgraceful sins and changed me for the better when I was too weak to do it myself

The Holy Spirit now permanently lives within me and will speak through me when I allow him to. He guides me with his counsel and afterwards will take me into glory. It is good to be a living tabernacle for God.

All our possessions and relationships on earth are nothing compared to our love for God. He is the strength of our hearts.

I have made God my refuge and will tell all of his deeds.

Image: By Peter Paul Rubens – Art UK, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91917906

Absalom’s death / Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin: June 11th 2021

2 Samuel 16:15-18:18

David had sent his friend, Hushai, to give poor advice to Absalom (David’s treacherous son who was intent on taking over the country). Absalom suspected Hushai’s motives as he knew he was a good friend of David’s (2 Sam.16:17).

Absalom first of all asked the renowned wise man Ahithophel how to progress his coup. Ahithophel told him to publicly lie with all of David’s ten concubines. This would declare to the whole of Israel that he had formerly set himself against his father. Absalom did this because Ahithophel had a great reputation for giving wise advice (2 Sam.16:23).

Ahithophel then wisely recommended that Absalom should assassinate his father David and bring all the other Israelites back to him. Absalom would have gained the throne if he had done this but God had made him resistant to good advice.

This gave Hushai the chance to propose an alternative strategy. Hushai recommended gathering an enormous army and killing not only David but also all his supporters. He managed to get Absalom to sign up to this plan (2 Sam.17:14). Hushai then sent David a secret message telling him to cross the river Jordan to get away from Absalom’s army.

Aphithophel was so upset that his wise advice had been ignored that he went and hanged himself (2 Sam.17:23). It would have been better for him to stay loyal to King David and to have left Jerusalem with him.

David had travelled to Mahanaim and was treated hospitably by people in the region. They brought him and his army bedding and food.

David mustered his men for battle and wanted to fight with them but they would not allow it. He was too valuable. He stood at the gate of the city in support but begged his soldiers to be gentle with his disloyal son (2 Sam.18:5). It is incredible that David should still want to protect someone who had disrespected his reign and was leading a massive army to kill him.

In the ensuing battle, David’s army killed twenty thousand Israelite soldiers. They probably had far more motivation in that they were fighting for their lives whereas the Israelites were just trying to swap one satisfactory king with another. There is the intriguing statement: ‘the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword’ (2 Sam.18:8), which implies that God was fighting for David in unusual ways. Perhaps the enemy troops ran into the forest in panic and fell into concealed ravines / large pits. They might have been attacked by wild animals or God may even have mobilised the trees to entangle the troops and drop branches on them. I suspect this verse was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Fangorn forest in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Absalom himself fell victim to one of the trees in the forest. His head got caught in the branches of a large oak as he was trying to ride under it and he was left swinging there. One of David’s soldiers saw his predicament but did nothing because of David’s command to be gentle with him. Joab, David’s army commander, thought this was nonsense and he and his men went and executed Absalom as if he were a piñata. Joab buried him in a large pit in the forest.

Absalom had earlier vainly set up a stone pillar as a monument to himself in the King’s Valley (see photo). It is difficult what to make of Absalom’s life. He had stood up for justice by avenging the rape of his sister Tamar but he had been extremely disrespectful and disloyal to his father, King David – possibly out of frustration that David hadn’t disciplined his rapist son, Amnon. David had welcomed Absalom back from exile and still wanted to protect him even after he had slept with his women and assembled a massive army to hunt him down. Absalom was a victim of his own good looks, charisma and vanity, lusting for power and thinking that he could do better than his father, who was loved by God. Absalom would have done better to emulate David’s patience, tolerance, love and humility.

Acts 7:20-43

Stephen continued to give the seventy one members of the Sanhedrin a potted history of the Jewish nation. At first glance, this would appear to be like me narrating the Nativity story to the Pope. I am sure they intimately knew the Old Testament storylines already but they had missed the vital point. All the Jewish Old Testament scriptures pointed to Jesus. Even today, many Jews aren’t taught the whole of Isaiah as it so obviously prophesies all about the life of Jesus (Isaiah 53:4-5).

However, Stephen would skilfully be building his later statements on the firm foundations of the Old Testament. Our faith in Jesus Christ is rooted upon the prophesies of the Old Testament. Jesus is referred to throughout the Old Testament and he often personally appeared and interacted with key characters, this is known as a Christophany,

Stephen reminded the Jewish elders that Moses had told the Israelites: ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people’ (Acts 7:37). This ‘prophet’ was Jesus, whom they had just killed. In fact, the Jews had killed virtually all of God’s messengers that had been sent to them. Jesus’ life had multiple similarities to that of Moses but Jesus was far greater. Moses delivered his people from oppression and slavery and led them to freedom. Jesus rescued the whole world from the oppression of the devil and the slavery of sin and death.

Stephen repeatedly demonstrated that God throughout history did not just dwell in the Jewish temple. God met people wherever they travelled from the burning bush in the desert, in Gentile territory, to the wonders he performed in Egypt. The Jewish religious elite did not accept that God had become incarnate in the form of Jesus and had performed miracles outside the temple. Many Christians these days tick off their religious obligations by monotonously attending a fixed-format service in a certain church each Sunday as if Jesus is confined to the four walls of that building. However, we carry God inside each one of us. He is fully portable. He is God of the whole world, there is nowhere we can hide from him, and we should be taking him with us each day to meet the needs of suffering people throughout the secular world.

Stephen would became the first Christian martyr and his evangelistic speech is a powerful example for all of us to follow. Stephen’s name mean ‘victor’s crown’ and, even though he was stoned to death, he delivered a timeless ‘victory speech’.

This event would be the official Jewish rejection of the renewed offer of the kingdom, paving the way for salvation to be eventually offered to all the Gentiles.

It would have intimidated an average person to give witness in front of 71 members of the Sanhedrin but Stephen was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was meant to be defending himself but he went on the attack and prosecuted the Jewish elders. Stephen was innocent, yet he would be punished. The Sanhedrin were guilty yet would escape punishment until God meted out his eternal justice.

Religious leaders have a history of rejecting God’s truth and his messengers. The Israelites had rejected God in the desert and so God turned away from them (Acts 7:42). The Jewish leaders were now rejecting God again with their beloved temple now becoming a worthless idol following the death of Christ.

Psalm 71:1-20

We should pray for our rulers to be people of justice and righteousness.

Queen Elizabeth II has had a spectacularly long reign because we all pray for her when we sing the National Anthem: ‘God save our gracious Queen. Long live our noble Queen’. Prayers really do work.

Our politicians should deliver the needy who cry out and the afflicted who have no-one to help, particularly our most vulnerable citizens, unborn children (Psalm 72:12). They should take pity on the weak and the needy, to save them from death.

We lose over 200,000 unborn children a year in the UK because we no not rescue them from oppression and violence. Their blood is precious in God’s sights (Psalm 72:14).

God alone does marvellous needs and we should praise his glorious name for ever.

Jesus created the world and he will be with us until the end of time. He will endure for ever and his words will feed us and water us so that we flourish (Psalm 72:5-7).

Image: Absalom’s monument: Alien is, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Saul and the Witch of Endor / Jesus is Flogged and Crucified: May 30th 2021

1 Samuel 26:1-28:25

Saul started chasing David around the countryside again. Saul could not resist the temptation to try to kill David just as we can return to the same habitual sins if we don’t ask the Holy Spirit to lead us and strengthen us.

David and one of his brave soldiers, Abishai, crept into Saul’s camp at night, while everyone was sleeping and took Saul’s spear and the water jug that was near his head. David was protected on this mission ‘because the Lord had put them all into a deep sleep’ (1 Samuel 26:12). David steadfastly refused to kill a king, who had been appointed by God.

David shouted to Saul and his men from a wide distance away and asked Saul why he was pursuing him again. Saul admitted he had sinned again and blessed David.

David wisely escaped to the land of the Philistines as Saul clearly could not be trusted. David and his men would go on raiding parties from there to acquire livestock and other goods. He ruthlessly exterminated all the men and women in the areas he raided for fear they might inform on him. It was a horrendously blood-thirsty time to live. It would have been nice to read that David granted people mercy but the sheer horror of some sections of the Bible demonstrates its truth. All the unpleasant bits that might make us question the morals of some of the main characters have been left in. However, God really didn’t like the Amalekites and, in his wrath, wanted them all dead. God had completely turned away from Saul for sparing just a single Amalekite, the king. Presumably, they were impenitent child-sacrificing monsters worshipping evil demonic entities and had broken so many of God’s laws they could not be redeemed in this Covenant. God needed them to die so that Jesus could come to preach to them in hell after his crucifixion.

The Philistine king, Achish, trusted David because he thought that the Israelites hated him so much that he would be his servant for ever. He even made David his bodyguard when the Philistines were preparing to fight against Israel.

Saul had previously followed God’s law (Exodus 22:18) and ‘expelled all the mediums and spiritists from the land’ (1 Samuel 28:3). However, he was now terrified of the Philistine invasion and none of the approved methods of communicating with God were working (1 Sam. 28:6). God had withdrawn the Holy Spirit from Saul and was allowing him to be plagued by an evil spirit. The primary occupation of an evil spirit is to tempt people and Saul was now tempted to consult a medium. It is a fundamental breach of God’s law to consult practitioners of the occult. If we do this, demons gain a legal right to oppress and even possess us and it may take a person with a very high level of spiritual authority and / or faith to deliver us from them. Dabbling in the occult attracts the big-hitting Biblical demons with personal names and they don’t usually travel alone.

The medium that Saul consulted brought up the recently deceased spirit of the prophet Samuel. Samuel was not happy at being disturbed. He reminded Saul that God had turned away from him and become his enemy. The Lord had torn the kingdom from his hands and given it to David. Samuel prophesied the loss of Israel to the Philistines and Saul’s own death (1 Samuel 28:19).

The witch made Saul eat something before he left. He had fallen full length on the ground in fear and his strength had gone. She was probably worried he might never leave and change his mind about not killing her. She slaughtered her fattened calf and baked bread for him and his men. He was an honoured guest in her house and part of her occult club now that she had conducted a séance for him. She only had to worry about him until the next day according to Samuel’s proclamation of his impending demise.

John 19:1-27

Pilate had Jesus flogged. I only realised the full horror of this experience when I watched ‘The Passion of the Christ’. This event is of particularly significance in Pentecostal belief because it is preached that all of our illnesses became embedded into the bloody grooves that were scourged into our Saviour’s back: Isaiah 53:5. See also, 1 Peter 2:24 which the NIV Bible translates as ‘by his wounds you have been healed‘, which sounds like the wounds of crucifixion, but other Bibles proclaim: ‘by whose stripes you were healed’ (NKJV). We can boldly pray for healing by virtue of Jesus’ taking all our our infirmities and diseases into the stripes / bloody thumps / grooves on his back. Jesus not only conquered death, but by being scourged he also conquered sickness and infirmity.

Pilate desperately tried to set Jesus free but the hostile crowd gave him no room for manoeuvre. He finally gave into their demands. He should have stood up for justice and released Jesus no matter what the consequences. He was a weak judge. These days, many biased people bay for blood to forward their own political agendas. We are so fortunate if we live in a land with a relatively impartial and just legal system, with a right to appeal our sentences. We must pray for our lawyers and judges that they are not tempted to deny justice to the innocent.

Jesus was crucified at the place of the skull, Golgotha. Jesus’ cross, according to legend, was right on top of where Adam’s skeleton (and skull) was buried. The blood and water from Jesus’ side would fall down onto the ground and soak Adam’s dry bones. When Jesus died, he descended down into hell on the most audacious rescue mission ever to rescue his old friends and ancestors, Adam and Eve, and lead them to heaven. Jesus had walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden. They were his friends and he had promised them, when they were expelled from Eden, that he would make things right. Jesus rescued them as both their creator and their descendant.

The sign on Jesus’ cross proclaiming him as ‘King of the Jews’ was written in the three different Biblical languages. Up to September 2020, the full Bible has been translated into 704 languages and the New Testament translated into another 1,551 languages. New ones are being added all the time. My wife’s Godfather has recently finished translating the original Hebrew Bible into Cornish. When we are given the supernatural gift of speaking in tongues, we might start speaking in an earthly or a heavenly language. People can be given the supernatural gift of understanding what we are saying or they might recognise their native language. Some people have English as their supernatural language – despite never having been taught any it.

John 19:25 mentions Jesus’ ‘mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas’ standing near the cross. Saint Jerome (347-420), argued that the so-called brothers of Jesus (James, Simon, Jude and Joses or Joseph) were children of Mary of Clopas making them first cousins of Jesus. I prefer the Eastern church’s tradition that the ‘brothers of Jesus’ were older sons of the widower Joseph from his deceased first wife. Either way, Mary, mother of Jesus, never had any other children as her vocation since birth was to be a temple virgin. Joseph, her elderly husband, was her strong, silent protector.

Even though Jesus was being crucified, he still cared for others. He ensured that his mother, Mary, would always be looked after by John – the disciple whom he loved (John 19:26-27). Mary, as the mother of God, is mother to all of us in the church. She is still our number one intercessor with privileged access to her son and our saviour. Praying to Mary is the same as asking your Pastor / Priest to pray for you but usually far more effective. Jesus remains the one mediator between human and God bridging the gulf between heaven and earth and opening up heaven for the righteous but both the living and the dead can pray for us. No-one is ever dead in God’s eyes, we are all living to him (Luke 20:38). The saints are twiddling their heavenly thumbs waiting for us to call for help. Demons are terrified of Mary as her prayers are so effective. She often intervenes in exorcisms to wrestle people from Satan’s grasp. It is the tragedy of the fractured and splintered church that so many people do not know they can request her powerful prayers.

Psalm 68:21-27

We should loudly praise God in all of our congregations (Psalm 68:26).

Sin and the devil are the enemies of us all. Jesus wiped out punishment for our sins by his death on the cross. He became incarnate to destroy the works of the devil. By her prayers, his mother Mary crushes the heads of the devil and the demons under her heel.

God will always be triumphant.

Image: Salvator Rosa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ruth Meets Boaz / Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind: May 16th 2021

Ruth 1:1-2:23

Naomi was left with her two Moabite daughters-in-law after her husband and two sons died. Her family had moved to Moab from Bethlehem because of a famine, which was now over.

Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to go back to their parents’ homes but one of them, Ruth, was so devoted to her that she refused to go. She wanted to accompany Naomi for ever: ‘Your people will be my people and your God my God’ (v.16). Naomi was prepared to give up her beloved Ruth for her to find happiness but Ruth was happy to turn her back on her own people to care for her foreign mother-in-law.

The two women returned to Naomi’s hometown, Bethlehem.

Naomi asked to be called ‘Mara’ meaning ‘Bitter’ because the ‘Almighty has made my life very bitter’ (v.20). We should not let ourselves become bitter. God will always rescue us from our troubles as long as we stay faithful to him. God was already orchestrating a way to rescue Naomi and Ruth and restore their good fortunes.

Ruth went to find leftover grain and was allowed to gather in the fields of Boaz – who was from the same clan as Naomi’s deceased husband.

Because Ruth had a great reputation and had been kind to her mother-in-law, she was blessed by the kindly Boaz: ‘May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge’ (v.12).

Boaz was not just kind to the living, he was also kind to the dead (v.20). The dead appreciate our kindly actions on the earth as they watch our daily work in the cloud of witnesses. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive (Luke 20:38).

Boaz fed and protected Ruth and instructed his harvesters to give her extra stalks of wheat. By working diligently, throughout the barley and wheat harvest, she was able to feed her mother-in-law.

It’s wonderful to read such a positive story after the grim events in the book of Judges.

Naomi and Ruth are experiencing a type of rebirth due to a saviour in Bethlehem.

We sow what we reap: kindness, loyalty and generous provision.

John 9:1-34

Today we can add more people to the list of people that never sinned. In previous days we mentioned how Jesus never sinned; how Mary, Mother of God, never sinned and how the righteous – that Jesus did not come to save – never sinned and here we meet some of them: ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned’ said Jesus, (speaking of a man blind from birth), ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life’. Being born blind was not a punishment for past misdemeanours, it was a passport to receiving a healing blessing from Jesus. People would forever read his touching testimony: ‘I was blind but now I see!’ (v.25).

I used to be blind to how sinful I was. I thought I was more or less ok. My eyes were opened in the Sistine Chapel one day and I realised how awkward my final judgement would be unless I changed direction and headed towards the welcoming arms of Jesus. I will never forget the dramatic moment of conversion when I made a screeching handbrake turn in my spiritual life.

Many people misquote Romans 3:23 and just take the middle part of the verse out of context: ‘There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’.  Paul wasn’t writing that every single person has sinned, he was saying there is no race or nation that is totally free from sin. Some Jews and some Gentiles will have committed sins but not all of them. To say the whole human race are sinners is too gloomy. We do all inherit ‘original sin’ at birth from our ancestor Adam but this is wiped away, along with any personal sins, by the exorcism of baptism.

There are some important principles on display today. The poor blind man that Jesus was about to cure was blind from birth. Many people would say this was cruel but God works for the good of all those that love him. If he hadn’t been blind, he wouldn’t have received an amazing miracle from Jesus and we wouldn’t still be reading about him more than two thousand years later. Both he and his parents would have received salvation by their belief in Jesus. The other important principle is that God works through people. If the man hadn’t been exactly in the right place at the right time, he wouldn’t have met Jesus to receive this miracles. The Holy Spirit may have whispered to the blind man to take the right directions at exactly the right times to ‘bump into’ Jesus. He had to be obedient to the promptings of the Spirit. However, even if he had missed Jesus, God will always find a way to accomplish his work. The man might have been healed later by Peter or Paul. There are always more chances while we are still alive to experience God’s healing grace. If you are sick today, God will most likely heal you through using an intermediate person. Go and ask a charismatic priest or pastor to pray for you so that the Holy Spirit can act through them. If you do get healed spontaneously in your bedroom, it will most likely have happened because someone else was praying for you.

Jesus reiterated that he was ‘the light of the world’ (v.5) just before he gave the blind man sight. Jesus likes us to contribute to our healing. He likes us to get involved and work with him. The blind man had to step out in faith and walk to the pool of Siloam and wash. When he had done this awkward task, which was probably quite difficult for a blind person, he went home seeing (v.7). This is similar to the leper, Naaman, having to wash himself seven times in the river Jordan to be healed from leprosy (2 Kings 5:14).

The Holy Spirit must have told Jesus that the man would be cured if Jesus made mud with his saliva and put it on the man’s eyes. Jesus obeyed these detailed instructions faithfully. Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic has meant that healing through saliva is now generally frowned upon.

Of course, it was a Sabbath again and the Pharisees were more concerned about Jesus working on the holy day rather than the outcome of this outstanding miracle. The man who had been healed knew that Jesus was a prophet (v.17). He knew that he had been touched by the supernatural. When people attend a church where healings, deliverances and prophesies take place, they can witness the truth of the gospel and believe.

The Pharisees hurled insults at the man born blind and declared they were disciples of Moses. They knew that God had spoke to Moses but they didn’t even know where this fellow (Jesus) came from (v.29). Hilariously, it was Jesus who had frequently met with Moses in the desert in the Tent of Meeting. Jesus was the God that Moses had talked to face to face like a friend.

The healed man carried out a brilliant defence of Jesus. He has instantly become a bold disciple of Jesus. He even subjected the Pharisees to withering sarcasm when they cannot get over their prejudice against Jesus despite the overwhelming evidence of his healing miracles: ‘Now that is remarkable!’ He pointed out that as God listened to Jesus, Jesus must be a ‘godly man who does his will’ (v.32). Jesus would not be able to do these miracles if he wasn’t from God.

This man, who had been a disabled beggar, dismantled the logic of anyone choosing to be an atheist. Jesus was a historical figure – as documented by independent historians. Jesus performed outstanding miracles for the glory of God – witnessed by thousands of independent onlookers. God listens to the godly man who does his will. If Jesus was not from God, he could have done nothing. Therefore, it is a historical fact that Jesus was the Son of God who performed amazing signs and miracles. He died and was resurrected to justify and make us righteous in the sight of God.

The amazing fact is that through our baptism, belief in Jesus and the gifts of the Holy Spirit we can perform the same miracles that Jesus did and aspire to even greater ones. It just takes faith and we can build on small successes, along with prayer and fasting to achieve great things for the glory of God.

We are all spiritually blind until our eyes are opened to the wonder of the gospel and the everyday presence of the Holy Trinity in our lives.

The healed man was thrown out by the spiritually blind Pharisees for his dynamic witness: ‘how dare you lecture us!’ (v.34). Jesus had not only physically let light into his eyes, he had given him spiritual light. This man now knew the truth, that Jesus was the Saviour of the world. He would have gone home laughing, rejoicing in his new vision, seeing God’s glorious creation for the first time. Praise the Lord!

Proverbs 12:8-17

Back in Solomon’s time, men were praised according to their wisdom. ‘Men with warped minds‘ were despised (v.8). These days, men (and women) with warped minds can make a very good living as stand-up comedians.

It isn’t wise to be pretentious. Better to be humble and have some money in the bank than to be ostentatious and secretly poor.

Righteous people care for their animals and are not cruel. I have just cooked an entire roast chicken for my poorly miniature dachshund who has had a major neck operation so hopefully she will testify in my favour.

We do have to make our living through practical schemes and not chase unworkable fantasies. Evil men reveal their characters through their sinful talk (v.13). Righteous people escape trouble as long as no-one believes the lies of false witnesses.

We should aspire to be wise, patient and prudent; slow to anger, grateful for advice and instantly forgive when people insult us.

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

War against the Benjamites / Jesus’ Truth will set us Free: May 15th 2021

Judges 20:1-21:25

The Israelites were shocked by the ghastly behaviour of the inhabitants of Gibeah. They assembled at Mizpah and told the tribe of Benjamin that they should hand over their wicked compatriots. The Benjamites refused and mobilised their troops for battle. They mustered an impressive army of twenty-six thousand men but this would be up against the rest of the Israelites: four hundred thousand fighting men.

The Israelites asked God who should attack first and he told them to send the tribe of Judah. The Benjamites killed twenty-two thousand of them in the first day. After confirming with God that they should attack again they lost another eighteen thousand soldiers. So far, the campaign to rid the evil from Israel was a complete disaster but God had never promised them it would be easy or that he approved of the war.

The Israelites wept in front of the Lord, fasted and made offerings. Then God promised to give the Benjamites into their hands (v.28). This time, with the help of an ambush the other Israelites slaughtered the Benjamites, killed twenty-five thousand of them, putting all their towns to the sword (including the animals_ and setting everything on fire. Only six hundred Benjamites escaped into the desert. Let us hope that the old man who had been hospitable in Gibeah escaped the carnage (19:16-24).

The other Israelites vowed that not one of them would give a daughter in marriage to a Benjamite (21:1). However, they were very sad and wept to the Lord in grief that one of the original twelve tribes of Israel had nearly been wiped out.

The chaos continued because the Israelites had vowed that whoever failed to assemble before the Lord at Mizpah should be put to death. No representatives had turned up from Jabesh Gilead. The Israelites sent twelve thousand men to kill all the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead apart from four hundred female virgins. They then made an offer of peace to the few remaining Benjamites and gave them the four hundred virgins.

However, the Benjamites still did not have enough wives. The Israelites were determined not to entirely lose the tribe of Benjamin and wanted to allow them to build up their numbers again. So the Benjamites were allowed to hide in the vineyards around Shiloh during the annual festival of the Lord and rush out to kidnap a wife – taking her back to the land of Benjamin.

‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit’ (v.25).

You can say that again!

What are we to make of this? When society does not have a single, righteous leader with a single set of unifying laws, wickedness and civil war can multiply. The majority of the Israelites still respected the official tabernacle and had attempted to come together to rid themselves of terrible evil but they had suffered heavy casualties. It would have been better to repent and renounce their sins, fast and offer sacrifices to God before they waged war as he may have given them victory straight away. Jesus’ prayers were always successful as he was in tune with God at all times through continual prayer and regular fasting. He didn’t have to get into God’s good books to have his prayers answered unlike his disciples who were unable to cast out a demon because they had failed to pray and fast enough (Mark 9:29).

It would have been far easier for the Benjamites to admit that their compatriots were evil and surrender them for trial. We should be impartial when it comes to justice and not try to violently defend evil. The rest of the Israelites did show love and regret for nearly wiping out the tribe of Benjamin. They did want to preserve their heritage. However, they came up with a bizarre way of providing wives for the Benjamites – allowing them to kidnap their women. This is legalistic nonsense. It would have been far more traumatic for the women to have been seized in this way rather than be asked if they wanted to volunteer. Thank God that we still have a government setting national laws. It has been intensely confusing in Great Britain having devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland making their own rules during Covid. However, sometimes this does give your own area a small advantage. Let’s hope that our government doesn’t break down into even smaller units so that ‘everyone will do as they see fit’.

We must pray for our leaders that they are themselves led by God. When leaders reject God and ‘do as they see fit’ countries and empires will be lost. We must pray for President Biden, who declares himself to be a Christian, that he will follow the will of God.

John 8:31-59

The truth we learn from Jesus will set us free (v.31).

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin’ (v.34). We need to break away from this slavery to take up our place as adopted children of God and be ‘free indeed’. God arranged for me to be free from the slavery of paid employment so I can work for him. I was recently tempted to start a new well-paid secular job but what would I be doing it for? To squeeze even more money into my bank accounts? I shouldn’t give up freedom for the love of money. I was emotionally traumatized at the thought of secular employment, because I would be returning to slavery. Proverbs 26: 11 kept popping into my mind: ‘As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly’. I would be a slave to the opinions of my new boss and my co-workers. Of course, a secular job at the right times in our lives can be a great blessing from God and he will engineer us into work positions that we need when we need them. I couldn’t have raised a family without decades of secular employment. However, eventually we might be called to do something else. I had this nagging feeling that I should leave and prayed a bold prayer to God ‘Lord, if I should be doing something else please make it abundantly clear as I am slow to respond to hints. I need you to make it plain’. He made it abundantly clear I should change my vocation. We aren’t permitted to boldly proclaim Christian values in most secular work places. I felt a deep sense of peace when I rejected the idea of returning to secular slavery and chose continued freedom in Christ.

The Holy Spirit will help us to be free indeed from the sin that attracts us and clings to us like a sliver of cellophane stuck to our hand. I was stuck in repetitive addictive sin despite being ‘born again’ until I handed over control to the Holy Spirit by praying for up to an hour a day ‘in the Spirit’. The power of the Holy Spirit can set us free after we repent, renounce and believe in Jesus.

Jesus told the crowd that they were nothing like Abraham. Jesus knew exactly what Abraham was like. It had been Jesus, along with two angels, who had visited Abraham in his camp and predicted that he would be blessed with a miraculous child (Genesis 18).

Jesus proved that the assembled crowd were neither children of Abraham nor of God. Their father was the devil, ‘the father of lies’ (v.44). As opposed to the people who belong to God who hear what God says (v.47).

The devil was a murderer from the beginning (v.44). People who support murderous abortion work for him and twist the truth that a foetus is somehow different to an unborn baby. They cannot hold to the truth, for there is no truth in them. They lie that abortion is a liberating ‘right for women’ when it kills over twenty million women a year before they are born.

Abraham saw Jesus back in the time of the patriarchs and rejoiced because Jesus brought truthful, good news to him. Jesus existed from the dawn of all time. He created the world and so existed long before Abraham: ‘He was with God in the beginning’ (John 1:2). Jesus said he was God by claiming for himself the most holy name of God: ‘I am’ (v.58).

This was so outrageous to the crowd that they wanted to stone him but it wasn’t yet time for Jesus to die. His guardian angel was Saint Michael, leader of the loyal angel armies, and so it was a simple matter to hide and slip away under the shelter of his wings.

Psalm 61:1-8

King David’s heart was growing faint and he felt a long way from God. He continued to faithfully call to him. He longed to shelter under his wings and dwell in his presence for ever (v.4).

God had always been his refuge and ‘a strong tower against the foe’ (v.3).

David called for God’s love and faithfulness to protect him. He would sing praise to his most holy name and fulfil his vows.

Image: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/chain-broken-broken-chain-link-1623322/

Jephthah battles the Ammonites / Jesus is the Bread of Life: May 10th 2021

Judges 10:1-11:40

The Israelites once again cheated on God and served pagan deities. So God allowed them to be crushed by their enemies. Eventually, the Israelites were in such great distress they cried out to the Lord and confessed their unfaithfulness. At first, God was reluctant to save them again: ‘Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!’ (v.14).

However, the desperate Israelites got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. Then God ‘could bear Israel’s misery no longer’ (v.16).

Jephthah, from Gilead, was a mighty warrior’ (11:1). He was illegitimate and his half-brothers had forced him to flee. A group of individuals gathered around him and, eventually, the elders of Gilead asked him to be their commander, fighting against the Ammonites.

The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah and he advanced with his army against the Ammonites. He made the unwise vow to the Lord that if God gave his enemies into his hands, he would offer ‘whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return as a burnt sacrifice’ (v.31). What could possibly go wrong?

Jephthah defeated the Ammonites and devastated twenty towns. When he returned to his home, his daughter came out to meet him, dancing with joy to the sound of tambourines. She was an only child. Jephthah was heart-broken. His daughter told him to keep his word to the Lord – but she would like two months to roam the hills and weep with her friends. Jephthah granted this request. She faithfully returned and was sacrificed. This is a strange story as we know that God does not like human sacrifice. God stopped Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac at the last minute. Jephthah should have prayed to God and asked for confirmation that he should go through with this and God would have stopped him. I don’t think it is a good way to pray: Lord if you do this, I will do that. We shouldn’t bargain with God. We should do his work out of our love for him, because he loved us first. We should pray to find out his will in all things and pray for his help, without bargaining, in Jesus’ name. There is nothing we can bargain with. He owns everything already. He wants obedience and faith, not sacrifice.

John 6:25-59

The crowd chased after Jesus to the other side of the lake. They wanted some more of the delicious bread he had multiplied when he had fed the five thousand. However, they should not ‘work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life’ (v.27). Jesus will give us this spiritual food.

For the debate about whether salvation is based on faith alone or on faith together with deeds, Jesus explained that the work of God is: ‘to believe in the one he has sent’ (v.29).

Jesus is the bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (v.33). So, when we are praying the ‘Our Father’: ‘And give us this day our daily bread’, we are also praying for a daily infilling of Jesus.

Jesus is the bread of life and we are invited to eat this bread during the Holy Eucharist. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world’ (v.51). ‘For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink’ (v.55). ‘The one who feeds on me will live because of me’ (v.57). If we look to Jesus, come to him and believe in him, we will never go hungry or thirsty (v.35). Jesus will never drive away those who freely chose to come to him (v.37) and he will raise us up to eternal life on the last day (v.39).

Jesus confirmed that ‘No-one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father’ (v.46). Therefore, all the physical appearances of ‘God’ in the Old Testament e.g. Abraham meeting the three visitors (Genesis 18), Jacob wrestling with God all night (Genesis 32), must have been with Jesus himself. Jacob marvelled that he ‘saw God face to face, and yet my life is spared (32:30).

Jesus offering himself to us as Living Bread is infinitely better than the provision of manna, the supernaturally provided food that sustained the Israelites in the desert for forty years. The forefathers of the Jews were just physically nourished by manna. It did nothing to their spiritual life. As we come to Jesus and eat his blessed body we become incrementally more like Jesus both physically and spiritually, ‘He who feeds on this bread will live for ever’ (v.58).

Psalm 59:1-8

King David is once again asking God to deliver him from his enemies. He calls for justice because he is being attacked when he has done no wrong (v.4). When we make it publicly known we are Christians, we can expect attacks from friends, colleagues and strangers for no offence or sin of ours.

These people spew out evil words and twist our message of eternal life. They call good things evil and evil things good.

God is laughing at these evil people and He scoffs at nations run by them. Justice will always prevail in the end and we will be delivered.

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/bread-bread-of-life-gospel-bible-3707013/

Gideon wins in Battle / Testimonies about Jesus: May 8th 2021

Judges 8:8b – 8:35

The Lord told Gideon that he would triumph against the Midianites. He should get up and attack their camp. However, God knew that Gideon liked reassurance and so, if he was still afraid, he should sneak down to the enemy camp with his servant, and listen to what the Midianites were saying.

Gideon heard a Midianite describing his dream to a friend. The Midianite had dreamt that a round loaf of bread tumbled into their camp causing a tent to overturn and collapse (v.13). His friend interpreted this to mean that they would be defeated by Gideon: ‘God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands’ (v.14).

This conversation inspired Gideon to wake up his army to attack but before he did this he worshipped God. God had been extremely patient in helping Gideon get over his un-belief. Gideon now had enough faith to launch an attack to gain a seemingly impossible victory.

Gideon and his small band of fighters waged psychological warfare by standing around the enemy camp holding torches, blowing trumpet and smashing jars. The Midianites were terrified and ran away crying before God caused them to turn their swords on each other.

Gideon called on the Israelites of Ephraim for assistance and they turned out to be effective reinforcements. They were annoyed they hadn’t been asked sooner. It often happens that when we ask relatives or friends for help they lay a lot of emotional baggage on us. Gideon was in a highly stressful chase after a dangerous foe and his fellow Israelites started criticising him sharply rather than just getting on with the task. Presumably, they were jealous of his success and didn’t want to be left out of the history books for routing the Midianites. Gideon wisely chose to flatter their inflated egos by saying: ‘What have I accomplished compared to you?’ (v.2) which lessened their resentment. Of course, Gideon had achieved far more and his name alone is recorded in the Bible for his faithful courageous attack on the Midianite camp against overwhelming opposition.

Gideon asked the Israelites living in Succoth and Peniel to give his exhausted troops bread but they unwisely refused. They probably didn’t believe he would triumph and the Midianites would return. Possibly they were allies of the Midianites and secretly didn’t actually want Israel to be free. Jesus told us to use money to make friends. If an army of our fellow citizens appears to be miraculously winning a war, it is probably wise to give them what they want.

When Gideon eventually captured the two kings of Midian, he brought them back to Succoth, punished the elders of Succoth with desert thorns and briers, pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.

The Israelites asked Gideon to rule over them and he wisely answered: ‘The Lord will rule over you ‘ (v.23). However, he then made a fatal mistake. He asked for gold ear-rings from the plunder and made them into an ephod (a ceremonial breastplate normally worn by a priest). He set this up in his town (Oprah) and ‘all Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there’ (v.27). Gideon should have humbly said: ‘The Lord will rule over you’ and made the Israelites visit the official tabernacle. He should not have set up a new religious idol in his hometown.

There was peace for forty years but, as soon as Gideon died, the Israelites were back to their usual tricks worshipping the Canaanite deities. We can expect God’s wrath to descend on them very soon.

John 5:31-47

In addition to John the Baptist’s testimony, the work that Jesus did confirmed that he had been sent from God. The miracles, the healing, the exorcism of evil spirits and Jesus’ radical new teaching were all evidence that he was completely filled with the Holy Spirit and the Son of God.

If we read the Old Testament under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can start to spot the hundreds of times that Jesus is mentioned.

The Pharisees were happy to read Moses’ writing in the Old Testament and felt smug that they were trying to comply with his law as a tick-box exercise to get to heaven but Jesus, standing before them, is the second Moses. We cannot earn our place in heaven by ticking religious boxes and living a legalistic life. Moses wrote the law to try to preserve the Israelites, keeping them from destroying themselves through their own sins until Jesus arrived. Moses had met with God ‘face to face, as one speaks to a friend’ (Exod. 33:11), but, as ‘no-one has seen God but the one and only Son (John 1:18), it must have been Jesus meeting Moses repeatedly in the Tent of Meeting during the Israelite’s exodus in the desert.

If the Jews did not believe Moses’ written testimony about Jesus preserving their ancestors in the desert, they were not going to accept Jesus’ word now.

Proverbs 11:19-28

‘He who pursues evil goes to his death’ (v.19). The vast majority of people in Western Society will have heard of Jesus. If such people persist in rejecting his offer of life and carry on choosing to live in persistent grave sin, separating themselves from God, God will respect their choices in the afterlife and allow them to remain separate forever. When it comes to heaven and hell, many people cannot get their heads around ‘forever’. That’s why hell is so terrible. It never ends. It will be too late for repentance and reconciliation. What do the wicked hope for? That there is no after-life and so they can’t be proved wrong. The best the wicked can hope for is oblivion. If they are wrong, they face wrath. The righteous, who believe in Jesus and are baptized, can hope for everlasting happiness in a perfect heaven seeing the face of God.

God delights in the blameless (v.20). As our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ, God delights in us.

It is wise to be generous: ‘a generous man will prosper’ (v.25). He will ‘gain even more’ (v.24). ‘He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed’ (v.25). The starting point of generosity is to tithe to our church (giving 10% of our income). This destroys the love of money and frees us up to bless others. We shouldn’t pin our hopes on what we have in the bank: ‘Whoever trust in his riches will fall’ (v.28).

The truly righteous attain life (v.19) and ‘thrive like a green leaf’ (v.28).

Image: Rijksmuseum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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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