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

2 Samuel 1:1-2:7

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

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

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

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

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

John 20:10-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 13:20-14:4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus raises Lazarus from the Dead: May 19th 2021

1 Samuel 2:27-4:22

A prophet came to the priest, Eli, and delivered a devastating prophecy against him and his descendants because they had taken liberties during their priestly office and dishonoured the Lord. The Lord declared: ‘Those who honour me I will honour but those who despise me will be distained’ (v.30). This counters some people’s ‘once saved, always saved’ philosophy. If we start dishonouring the Lord and turn our back on him, he can take back his promises.

The prophet predicted that Eli’s two unfaithful sons would die on the same day. God would instead ‘raise up for him a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind’ (v.35).

A prophecy like this was a rare occurrence in those days: ‘the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions’ (v.1). Many people still think this is the case today. They mistakenly think that miracles, works of healing and speaking in tongues were just for the early church at Pentecost and no-one exhibits supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit these days. They are attending the wrong church. They need to find one where the gifts of the Spirit are demonstrated at every public gathering and bring the gifts the Spirit has blessed them with to bear fruit.

The Lord called Samuel at night, while he was lying down in the temple of the Lord at Shiloh, where the ark of the Covenant was. Sometimes we don’t recognise the voice of God. He can try to get his message across to us via multiple channels such as dreams, visions, other people, the internet or books. Sometimes, we need to go to our quiet place of prayer and say: ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening’ (v.10). I often pray to God that he makes it clearly obvious what I should do as I might not notice subtle hints. The Lord told Samuel what he was about to do to Eli’s family – because Eli had failed to restrain his contemptible sons. Samuel was reluctant to relay the message about God’s upcoming wrath to Eli but the old priest insisted on hearing it. Eli had already come to terms with his fate: ‘He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes’ (v.18). Eli could have tried to change God’s mind, as the people of Nineveh did in the book of Jonah by wearing sackcloth and repenting, but he probably couldn’t have persuaded his sons to change from their evil ways.

The Lord stayed with Samuel as he grew up and all Israel recognised him as a prophet of the Lord (v.20).

The Philistines fought against the Israelites and defeated them. Israel’s tribes were being run by ‘elders’ and they decided to bring the ark of the Covenant from Shiloh and take it into battle with them. (4:3). Eli’s two sons accompanied it. At first, the Philistine army was intimidated by the great shout from the Israelites that shook the ground as the ark entered the camp. However, the Philistines were determined not to be slaves of the Israelites and they girded their loins and fought. They thoroughly defeated Israel, killed Eli’s two sons and captured the ark of God. For the Israelites, this was a total disaster. God can sometimes give ‘ungodly people’ victories to teach his people a lesson.

When the ninety-eight-year-old, blind Eli was told about the loss of the ark, he fell backwards off his chair and died. His pregnant daughter-in-law then heard about Eli’s death and the death of her husband, went into premature labour, gave birth, and also died. The baby boy was called ‘Ichabod’ meaning ‘where is the glory?’ for ‘the Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured’ (v.22).

What a mess. All due to priests and their families not giving sufficient honour to God.

John 11:1-44

Lazarus was terminally ill. He was the brother of Mary and Martha. They were all beloved friends of Jesus. This Mary ‘was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair’ (v.2). John may have been referring to the event in Luke (7:36-38) when a woman ‘who lived a sinful life’ poured perfume on Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair, in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Mary (of Bethany) appears to do the same thing later in John’s gospel (John 12:3). Was Mary (of Bethany) the same sinful woman mentioned in Luke and she wiped Jesus’ feet on two separate occasions with her hair? According to Pope St. Gregory this lady may also be none other than Mary Magdalene: “She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary [of Bethany], we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark” (Homilies on the Gospels).

I like to believe in this connection: ‘St. Mary Magdalene, the repentant sinner, who found both forgiveness and friendship with our Lord, who stood faithfully at the foot of the cross, and who saw the risen Lord, is a powerful example for each believerhttps://catholicstraightanswers.com/who-was-mary-magdalene-was-she-a-prostitute-who-repented/

In the Eastern Orthodox church, Mary of Bethany is considered to be a different person from Mary Magdalene so you can take your pick as to which theory to believe. Jesus prophesied that Lazarus’s sickness would be for God’s glory (v.5). He did not rush off to heal Lazarus. He stayed where we was for two more days. Jesus finally headed off to see him despite the risk to his personal safety (the Jews had previously tried to stone him in Judea). Jesus knew he would be safe from all attacks and was determined to carry on working until the end (the ‘twelfth hour of daylight’ (11:9)) i.e. until the designated time and place for him to die.

Thomas bravely rallied the other disciples to travel with Jesus even though he thought it was a suicide mission (v.16).

By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead in the tomb for four days.

Jesus told Martha that he was ‘the resurrection and the life’ and ‘whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (v.26).

Martha declared her belief and faith in Jesus, that he was ‘the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world’ (v.27). Her sister, Mary, was called to join them and Jesus wept when he saw her and her friends weeping.

Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb even though he would have been badly decomposing after four days. God loves a challenge. It would have been too easy to resurrect Lazarus immediately after he died. It was an even more spectacular miracle to reverse the process of decomposition, resurrect him and allow him to walk out of his own tomb.

Jesus said: ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go’ (v.44). We can walk out of our own tomb when we die with Jesus through our baptism. He resurrects us as a new creation, an adopted child of God clad in a spotless white robe, shining with eternal life. As baptized Christians we have all shed our grave clothes and been set free. We need not fear death as we have been granted eternal life. Through speaking in tongues, we demonstrate that the Holy Spirit, who raised both Lazarus and Jesus from the dead, lives within us and he will also give eternal life to our mortal bodies.

Psalm 64:1-10

King David asked God to hear him, to protect his life from threats and hide him from the wicked.

Evildoers conspired against him, shooting at him from ambush and hiding their cunning traps.

However, God will come to the rescue when we cry out to him. He will strike down the evildoers with arrows and bring them to ruin by turning their own tongues against them.

When the wicked are publicly humiliated and defeated, all mankind will fear the Lord and proclaim his works. We should all praise and rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in the shelter of his mighty wings.

Image: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro

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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