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

2 Kings 19:15-20:21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 28:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 83:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elijah fed by Ravens / Paul travels to Athens: 26th June 2021

1 Kings 16:8-18:15

Today, we are back to a list of the successive kings of the Northern area of the Holy Land (Israel) as opposed to the kings in the South (Judah).

The son of Baasha, Ela, only reigned for two years before he was assassinated by Zimri, one of his officials, whilst he was getting drunk. Zimri killed off all Baasha’s family, in accordance with the prophecy of Jehu, as soon as he was seated on the throne.

Zimri only reigned for seven days in Tirzah. The Israelites rebelled against him, having heard about how he plotted against Ela and they proclaimed the commander of the army, Omri, king instead. The army laid siege to the palace and Zimri set the palace on fire around him.

Omni fought off a rival to the throne and then reigned for twelve years. ‘He sinned more than all those before him’ (1 Kings 16:25). His son, Ahab, succeeded him and was even more wicked. It was trivial for him to commit all the sins of his ancestor Jeroboam and he also married the evil Jezebel, daughter of the king of the Sidonians. He set up an altar and pole to worship the Canaanite fertility deities who had always been a trap for the Israelites ever since the Moabite women had first seduced them (Num.25:1-3). Ahab infuriated God more than any of the previous kings of Israel (1 Kings 16:33). It was time for someone to stand up against his abominable practices.

Jericho was rebuilt during the reign of Ahab by Hiel of Bethel. Both his first born and his youngest son died in the process in accordance with the curse imposed by Joshua 6:26. This demonstrates the wickedness of the time; people were prepared to go against ancient laws to rebuild cursed cities for political / commercial / reasons of pride despite it costing them their own children. Child sacrifice would also have been routinely practiced under the rule of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel.

Elijah the prophet stood up to Ahab. He said there would be no dew or rain for the next few years until he commanded it (1 Kings 17:1).  God told Elijah to flee and hide in a ravine. He was to drink from a brook and ravens had been ordered to feed him (doesn’t seem very hygienic). Ravens have a history of performing God’s work for him and must not be eaten (Lev.11:15 and Deut.14:14. Noah sent a raven out from the ark looking for dry land (Gen.8:6-7). I carry a blessed St. Benedict medal with me. This medal is often carried by exorcists. Picking it up in the morning and putting it in a pocket, calls down the protection of God through the intercession of Saint Benedict, the patron saint of Europe. On the front of the medal, are depicted some of the notable events of Saint Benedict’s life. Jealous monks tried to poison him several times but he was always protected supernaturally. Once, his goblet of wine was poisoned but it shattered when he made the sign of the cross over it. When his bread was poisoned, a raven flew down and snatched it away. It’s common to lose food to birds where I live. Voracious gulls are all too keen to snatch chips and sandwiches. Ravens seem to keep an eye on major saints, even after death. I went to visit the grave of Saint Patrick in Northern Ireland and a raven kept a very close eye on me from the top of the church tower. I feel he was checking me out, to ensure I was showing an appropriate level of respect for this great saint.

As there was no rain, the brook that Elijah was drinking from eventually dried up. God told Elijah to go to Zarephath because he had commanded a widow there to feed him. Elijah came to the town gate, saw a widow gathering sticks and correctly assumed that this was the one. Following God is not complicated. The poor widow and her son were starving and only had a tiny bit of flour and oil left. She and her son were planning to eat it before dying. Elijah told her not to be afraid. He proclaimed that by God’s power, if she had sufficient faith to make bread for Elijah first, then her jar of flour and her jug of oil would not run dry until God gave rain. This miraculously happened (1 Kings 17:15-16). They didn’t have excessive amounts of flour and oil to give away, they just miraculously received their needs each day because of their combined faith. God kept them alive and dependent on His daily providence, just as the Israelites had relied on His daily supply of manna in the desert.

Some time later the widow’s son died. Maybe it was all that gluten! Elijah prayed and stretched himself out on the boy three times. God heard Elijah’s cry and brought the boy back to life. This miracle again confirmed that Elijah represented God (1 Kings 17:24).

After three years of total drought, God told Elijah to go back to King Ahab. Ahab’s wife Jezebel was conducting a genocidal campaign against the Lord’s prophets but a righteous man called Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace, had hidden a hundred prophets in two caves and was feeding them. Obadiah met Elijah and recognised him. Ahab had been searching everywhere for Elijah for three years and now he was walking into the lion’s den facing almost certain execution. Obadiah did not want to go and announce Elijah’s appearance to Ahab, because, if Elijah made a run for it, Ahad would surely kill Obadiah out of disappointment. Elijah reassured Obadiah that he would not run away. (1 Kings 18:15). This passage shows that even in the middle of great evil, there are still some good people performing righteous acts. Obadiah had hidden the prophets, despite the personal risk to himself, just as brave people hid Jews during the Second World War. There is always a holy remnant left in the most evil of societies.

Acts 17:1-21

Paul had now travelled to Thessalonica. He went to the Jewish synagogue on three Sabbath days to prove, from the scriptures, that Jesus had to suffer and rise from the dead. Some of the Jews were persuaded in addition to a ‘large number’ of God-fearing Greeks‘ (Acts 17:4). It appeared easier to convert open-minded Gentiles than the Jews, who were more brainwashed in religious tradition. The remaining Jews were jealous. They formed a mob and started rioting.

Paul and Barnabas were sent to Berea by the other believers, for their own protection. The noble Bereans received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures to confirm Paul’s word (Acts 17:11). Unfortunately, the hostile Jews from Thessalonica went after them and Paul was then brought to Athens, where he had to wait for Silas and Timothy.

Of course, Paul could not be idle and so he reasoned in the synagogue and the marketplace about Jesus, having been greatly stressed by the city being full of idols. The Athenians were interested in philosophy and new ideas and brought Paul to a meeting of the aristocratic ruling council, the Areopagus, to find out more. This was a golden opportunity for Paul to spread the gospel to the most influential people in Athens. Tomorrow, we will reflect on the magnificent speech that he delivered to them.

Psalm 78:9-16

We should never forget the miracles and wonders that God performed to lead his people out of Egypt. That is why a reading is read out from Exodus at the Easter Vigil (Exodus 15:1-18).

God performed an even greater wonder to rescue us from our death sentence. Jesus is the new and infinitely greater Moses. He is our Good Shepherd, our precious Saviour.  

The Jews were saved by the blood of the Passover lamb and went through water to be saved from death. We are made anointed children of God by going through the waters of baptism.

We have been saved by the precious blood of God’s only son. We have been redeemed and given the priceless gift of eternal life. We have been given the Holy Spirit by baptism, who will lead and guide us with his fire twenty-four hours a day (Ps.78:14). Our hard hearts will be split open, so that abundant streams of living water and loving power can flow from them (Ps.78:15).  

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/32495192@N07/10807624504

Solomon Dedicates the Temple / Paul Heals a Man Crippled from Birth: June 21st 2021

1 Kings 8:22-9:9

Solomon stood before the altar of the new temple, in front of the whole assembly of Israel and prayed.

There is no God like ours. He keeps a covenant of love ‘with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way’ (1 Kings 8:23).

Solomon prayed for his descendants that they would continue on the throne if they would faithfully walk before God as King David had done.  

Solomon asked: ‘But will God really dwell on earth?’ (1 Kings 8:27). Jesus came to dwell among us after his incarnation. God came to earth to serve and to save us. The temple would meanwhile serve as a place where God would ‘hear the prayer that your servant prays towards this place (1 Kings 8:29). Solomon prayed for God to both hear and forgive.

Solomon asked God to dispense justice, forgive the sin of Israel, teach them the right way to live and send rain on the land.

Solomon also asked God to hear the prayers of foreigners (Gentiles) so that ‘all the peoples of the earth may know your (God’s) name and fear you’ (1 Kings 8:43). He prophesied that because of Israel’s sins, ‘for there is no-one who does not sin’ (1 Kings 8:46), the Israelites would be defeated and exiled. Solomon prayed that in the future, the exiled Jews would be heard and forgiven when they turned back to God with their heart and soul in the land of their enemies.

God had singled out Israel from all the peoples of the world to be His inheritance. Solomon prayed that God’s eyes would also be open to the Israelites when they were in distress and that He would listen when they cried out to Him.

Solomon then blessed the whole assembly of Israel reminding them that not one word of God’s promises had failed. He prayed that God would never leave or forsake them and that He would help by turning their hearts towards him in order to keep his commands, decrees and regulations (1 Kings 8:57-58). Solomon told the Israelites that their hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God.  Is our own heart fully committed to God? We should ask this question of ourselves everyday and if the answer is ‘no’ , repent and renounce our failings and pray for more faith and commitment.

The temple was then dedicated with the sacrifice of a massive number of cattle, sheep and goats (1 Kings 8:63). There was a festival that lasted 14 days before the king sent the vast assembly of people home. The people blessed King Solomon and went away joyful and glad in heart (1 Kings 8:66).

The Lord again appeared to Solomon. This must have been Jesus as no-one can see God the Father and live. Jesus said that his eyes and heart would always be at the temple. Jesus again gave a blessing and a curse. If Solomon obeyed all the decrees and laws, his kingdom would be established for ever. But if he, or his sons, turned away from God then disaster would strike. God would cut them off and reject the temple if they embraced ‘other gods, worshipping and serving them’ (1 Kings 9:9).

Israel’s future was entirely down to the behaviour and actions of its king and people. They could choose a wonderful everlasting relationship with God or disaster, if they sinned and turned from God. We know which option they chose. People are so sinful they cannot stick to the path of faith and obedience, which is why Jesus would have to return to earth, become sin and take our punishment so that eternal life became a gift rather than something we could fail to earn.

Acts 14:8-28

Paul healed a crippled man in a very similar way to both Peter (Acts 3:6) and Jesus (Mark 2:11). Paul looked directly at the man, saw that he had faith to be healed and ordered him to stand up. Even though the man had been lame from birth and had never walked, the man jumped up and began to walk (Acts 14:9-10). My wife offered to pray for a lady in the street the other day who had confessed to having a medical worry. The lady, after a little thought, asked her not to pray because she had no belief. At least a seed was sown in this lady’s mind about our God being a healing God. We should move on and find people who have the faith to be healed – whilst praying that non-believers find faith, which would enable them to be healed.

When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they wanted to offer sacrifices to the two apostles as gods. Paul and Barnabas were horrified and insisted they were human. They were bringing the crowd the Good News telling them to turn to the living God, who had created everything. They had great difficulty in stopping the crowds from worshipping them.

Jews had followed them from the cities where they had previously preached. They won the fickle crowd over, stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city ‘thinking he was dead’ (Acts 14:19). The disciples gathered around him and he got up and went back into the city. Paul had amazing stamina and the healing power of the Holy Spirit to help him.

The next day, Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe and then returned to the other cities they had already preached in, despite having faced antagonism. They were fearless and prepared to lose their lives for the gospel. They had put their trust in God but expected to face hardships along the way (Acts 14:22).

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church and committed them to the Lord ‘with prayer and fasting‘ (Acts 14:23). They travelled back to Antioch to explain how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. They stayed a long time back with their home church. It is wonderful to have a specific congregation to go back to, to give them our testimony and share how their prayers for our missionary work have borne fruit.

Proverbs 15:11-20

The cheerful heart has a continued feast and a happy heart makes the face cheerful.

A patient man calms a quarrel. Upright people live their lives on a highway, whereas lazy people find their paths blocked (Prov.15:19).

We don’t want to be hot-headed as this will stir up dissension. If we resent being corrected and don’t like to ask wise people for advice, we may be proud and mocking. Discerning people seek knowledge (Prov.15:14).

I love sharing a fellowship meal with Christians because you can feel the love in the room. The food does not have to fancy (Prov.15:17).

If we show wisdom, we will bring our parent’s joy. A foolish man despises his mother (Prov.15:20). Jesus cared for his mother so much that he arranged a permanent place for her in John’s house while he was on the cross (John 19:26-27).

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

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

2 Samuel 23:8-24:25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 9:32-10:23a

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 74:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Samuel 14:1-15:12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 5:12-42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 14:15-24

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

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

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

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

Image: Masaccio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

David fights the Arameans / Peter and John Heal a Man Crippled from Birth: June 6th 2021

2 Samuel 9:1-10:19

David tracked down his deceased friend Jonathan’s disabled son. David was determined to show kindness to someone from the house of Saul for Jonathan’s sake.

Jonathan’s son was called Mephibosheth and David restored to him the land of his grandfather, Saul, and allowed him to always eat at his table.

It is wonderful to spend time considering if there is someone we can help out / be kind to and get on and do it.

The king of the Ammonites died and David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to his son. The Ammonite nobles accused the visiting Israelites of being spies and assaulted them disrespectfully (2 Sam.10:4). The Ammonites realised this had angered David and they hired mercenaries to bolster their army. David sent Joab and his entire army of fighting men against them.

The hired men, Arameans, fled in front of the Israelite army. They eventually regrouped and engaged Israel in battle. David’s army killed a huge number of them (2 Sam.10:18) including the commander of their army. This made smaller nations make peace with the Israelites out of respect for them and the Arameans were too afraid to help the Ammonites any more.

Acts 3:1-26

A man crippled from birth asked Peter and John for money. He didn’t even look at them. He didn’t realise that they, out of all the people passing him by, were now adopted sons of God with the power to heal him. Peter commanded the man to look at them (Acts 3:4). The man finally gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Peter said he didn’t have any money ‘but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk’ (Acts 3:6-7). Peter helped the man up and instantly his feet and ankles became strong. The man had never walked for his whole life but was now able to walk, jump and praise God. It was an outstanding miracle and shows that we, as baptized spirit-filled disciples, can also pray powerfully for healing ‘in the name of Jesus’. A crown of onlookers acknowledged the man’s healing and were filled with wonder and amazement.

The place where the healing took place was a temple gate called ‘Beautiful’. Peter and John had seen the beauty in a man created by God, even though he needed healing. The crowd saw the beauty of Jesus’ healing power changing someone’s life for ever. We can encounter someone that needs healing wherever we may travel. The Holy Spirit might whisper to us that we should walk up a different street than usual or go somewhere at a certain time in order to meet someone we can help. Let us boldly seize the chance and not walk on by. A friend of mine specialised in healing strangers in supermarkets. He marched up to a lady one day in the vegetable aisle and said: ‘I can see you have a problem with your leg. I am a Christian, may I pray for you.’ Most people are very grateful for the offer. Everyone likes attention. The lady replied: ‘I didn’t know that I had any problem with my leg but please go ahead anyway’.

Peter asked the crowd why this miracle surprised them. It was not the disciples’ own power or godliness that had healed the man but the authority of Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him (Acts 3:16). Peter reminded the crowd that they had disowned the Holy and Righteous One and killed the author of life (Acts 3: 14-15). So many people in our society today still disown Jesus and allow a murderer, the devil, free access to take up residence within them. The crowd in Jerusalem had acted out of ignorance but modern people are far more guilty. Most are not ignorant of the gospel, they just ignore it and refuse to believe in active rebellion against God.

Peter urged the crowd to repent and turn to God so that their sins would be wiped out (Acts 3:19). When we finally turn to God and become ‘born again’ our whole body and spirit will be refreshed.

Jesus will physically remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything (Acts 3:21) but he spiritually lives in the hearts of all born-again Christians.

Moses had prophesied that Jesus would be raised up from the Jews. All the prophets, from Samuel on, had foretold the appearance of Christ (Acts 3:24). Jesus wants to turn all of us from our wicked ways through the power and encouragement of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is descended from the original patriarch, Abraham, because God had promised him: ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed’ (Acts 3:25).

Psalm 70:1-5

We can pray for God to hasten to save us. He is our help and our deliverer (Ps.70:5).

Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies (Romans 12:14) in contrast to King David who often wanted his enemies to be shamed / confused and disgraced. However, God will make sure that justice is delivered (Romans 12:19-21).

King David prayed that all who seek God will rejoice and be glad in him.

I love the kind salvation that God has given me and so I proclaim, with David, ‘Let God be exalted!’ (Ps.70:4).

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_apostles_Peter_and_John_heal_the_lame_man._Photomechanic_Wellcome_V0034960.jpg

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

Deborah and Jael / Jesus Heals: May 6th 2021

Judges 4:1-5:31

Ehud, the judge, died, and so the Israelites once again slipped back into evil ways. In punishment, God handed them over to a king of Canaan, Jabin. Sisera was the general of Jabin’s formidable army. The Israelites were cruelly oppressed for twenty years because the Canaanites employed sophisticated military technology. They had nine hundred iron chariots (v.3).

Deborah, a prophetess, was leading Israel at this time. Deborah was the first significant female leader in the Bible. Prior to her, Moses’ sister Miriam had assisted Moses and his brother, Aaron, lead the nation. However, Deborah is not only leading the whole of Israel, she had also been given one of the major gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophecy, to enable her to do this well.

Deborah told an army commander, Barak, to take ten thousand men to fight their enemy Jabin’s army at the Kishon river. Barak only agreed to go if Deborah accompanied him. Deborah agreed but prophesied that because of Barak’s demand for her to be physically present, Barak wouldn’t receive the honour for the upcoming victory: ‘the Lord will hand Sisera (commander of the enemy army) to a woman” (v.9). Deborah had the courage of her convictions. She wasn’t the type of commander to stay miles away from the battle-lines in safety. God had told her there would be a victory and so like Elizabeth I putting on armour and addressing her army at Tilbury in 1588 (‘I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too’), Deborah was happy to go to the front line of battle and encourage the troops.

Sisera charged to fight Barak with all his nine hundred chariots but Deborah prophesised that victory was coming to the Israelites: ‘Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?’ (v.14).

The credit for the victory is given to the Lord: ‘The Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword’ (v.15). Possibly the Lord used warrior angels to overcome Sisera’s chariots or gave the Israelites supernatural prowess in battle. Maybe the wheels of the chariots became clogged in mud – the same disaster the Egyptians suffered in the middle of the Red Sea. In Deborah’s song of victory she mentions that the stars fought from heaven and the river Kishon swept the enemy away (5:20-21). Somehow, the Israelites won despite the enemy’s formidable force of iron chariots. To achieve this, Barak had stepped out in faith, once he had been reassured by Deborah, and God won the victory fulfilling the prophecy God had given to Deborah.

Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot (v.15). He fled and took refuge in the tent of Heber the Kenite, because he thought he was an ally of his king, Jabin.

Heber may have been an ally but his wife, Jael, who was home alone had other ideas. Sisera asked for water but Jael cunningly gave him milk to make him even more sleepy. While he lay fast asleep, exhausted by the battle, she hammered a tent peg through his forehead and into the ground. This took considerable courage. This man was commander of an army, He was a trained killer probably still with blood on his sword. Imagine, if he hadn’t been fully asleep or had woken up as Jael stealthily crept towards him with mallet and tent peg in hand.

When Barak passed her tent as he searched for Sisera, Jael proudly showed him her handiwork (v.22). This victory started the Israelites on the road to destroying Jabin, the Canaanite king. Through a combination of help from the Lord, prophecy, faith, courage and the leadership of two strong women, Israel was once again temporarily free for forty years.

Deborah prayed for the future salvation of the Israelites: ‘So may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength’ (v.31). Let us rise like the sun to show all people who visit our churches, the loving light of God burning within us.

John 4:43-5:15

Jesus arrived in Galilee and was welcomed (v.45) even though Jesus had previously pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country. The Galileans had witnessed all that he had recently done in Jerusalem and were glad to see him.

Jesus healed a royal official’s son at a distance. The father believed that Jesus could do this, he ‘took him at his word’ and returned home. He showed faith by not insisting that Jesus accompany him. The fever left the boy at the exact time that Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live’. This healing miracle converted the whole household: ‘So he and all his household believed’ (v.53).

Jesus then healed an invalid at the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem. According to medieval legend, this healing pool provided the wood on which Jesus would be crucified. The legend is that Adam’s son, Seth, journeyed back to the entrance of Eden to find help when Adam was dying. Of course, the angels would not let him in but Saint Michael gave him a branch from the tree of mercy. Seth brought it back to Adam but it was too late. Adam had died. Adam was buried at Golgotha, under where Jesus’ would die on the cross and soak Adam’s dry bones with his blood and water. Seth planted the branch over Adam’s grave and it grew into a miraculous tree. King Solomon tried to use the timber for making the temple but it was too supple and so he made it into a bridge. The Queen of Sheba refused to cross this bridge because she foresaw that the wood would cause the end of the Jews. King Solomon cut down the tree and buried the wood deep underground from which a miraculous healing spring came which fed this pool of Bethesda, where healing miracles took place. Eventually, a large log of wood floated up to the top of the pool and this wood was eventually used for Jesus’ cross.

Pool of Bethesda

The Jews believed that an angel visited this pool each day and stirred it, making it bubble. Maybe this agitation is what brought the wood for Jesus’ cross up to the surface. When the pool was stirred, the first invalid that got into the water was reputed to receive a healing miracle. This is unfortunate, as the most crippled person would be the slowest. The priests should have taken charge of this pool and arranged for the one with the greatest disability to go first. There would have been an unholy rush to try to get in the pool at the critical time and there had been no-one to help this particular invalid. When we don’t have any human friends to assist us, we can always call on Jesus for help, mercy and healing.

Jesus healed him with an order: ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk’ (5:8). The man actually had to do something to take hold of the healing miracle that Jesus was providing. The rules about keeping the Sabbath were so strict that onlookers objected to him carrying his mat. This is why it doesn’t make sense for some Christians to insist that Christians should still ‘keep the Sabbath’ rather than worship God on the Sunday, the Lord’s day. It is virtually impossible for someone in the modern world to ‘keep the Sabbath’. Just switching on an electronic item breaks the Sabbath as Jews are not permitted to light fires and flicking a switch creates a spark. I am sure that no Christian who says they ‘keep the Sabbath’ would think twice about lifting up a mat, let alone driving or cooking on a Saturday.

Jesus gave a similar warning to this healed man that he gave to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11) ‘Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you’ (v.14). Some people seem to think that once they are born again / saved they can continue to live in grave sin. No! We have to turn from sin and live according to God’s laws. This may well prove to be impossible through our own efforts but the Holy Spirit will do it for us, if we turn to him. He will convict us of the sin in our lives and strengthen us so that we can easily resist it. To access his support, we just have to pray in the Spirit on a regular daily basis for as long as we can.

Psalm 57:1-6

We can take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings until disaster has passed (v.1). The Israelites during the first Passover took refuge in their houses, protected by the blood of the lamb on the door-frames and lintels of their doors as disaster passed overhead.

If we cry out to God for mercy, he will save us, sending his love and faithfulness. He will rebuke those who pursue and persecute us (v.3). Jesus was crucified on wood from the legendary tree of mercy. God has mercy on us now in his new covenant as our punishment has been laid on Jesus.

King David was in the midst of hostile enemies – attacking him with their most dangerous weapons, tongues like sharp swords (v.4).

David praised God and prayed for God’s glory to be over all the earth (v.5).

Evil plans will rebound on the people who plan them. When people make a trap or dig a pit for us, they will fall into it themselves (v.6).

Praise the Lord for his faithfulness. He will rescue his children when they call on his name.

Image: Pool of Bethesda: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/47839190441

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

Ten healed of Leprosy: April 16th 2021

Deuteronomy 26:1-28:14

The Israelites were to bring some of the firstfruits from the promised land to the altar. They were told to ‘rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you (v.11). Once they had given their tithe as stipulated and had done everything else the Lord had commanded, they were able to call on God to bless them and their land (v.15).

The Israelites were the treasured possession of the Lord (v.18) and would be holy people (v.19). They were told to write the words of the law on large plastered stones after they had crossed the Jordan into the promised land (27:8).

If the Israelites committed certain sins they would be cursed (v.14-26). If they fully obeyed God and carefully followed all his commands they would be ‘set high above all the nations on earth‘ and be richly blessed (28:1-6).

The list of blessings is so wonderful that one wonders how the Israelites managed to mess this up. How could anyone spurn the wonderful gifts and blessings of God and go their own way? Their fall from grace was due to our inbuilt damaged human nature and freewill to sin. We experience temptation everyday. God will always give us grace to resist but, within a entire nation, some will always be weak links. We have all been weak links in our time. The Israelites were doomed to failure when it came to perfectly obeying the law. A perfect saviour would be required to rescue us all from the curse of sin to make us a new creation, holy and righteous in the sight of God.

Luke 17:11-37

Jesus cured ten men with leprosy. He told them to take action, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests’ (v.14) and as they went, they were healed. This is the difference between belief and faith. The lepers believed that Jesus could heal them but they were only healed when they added action to their belief and went in faith. Only one returned to say thank you to Jesus ‘and he was a Samaritan’ (v.16). His faith had made him well.

We should always return to Jesus and give praise to God for what he has done for us. God loves worship, praise, obedience and gratitude. We should thank God throughout the day for the wonderful things he has done for each of us.

Jesus explained that, ‘the Kingdom of God is within you‘ (v.21). Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural gift of Praying in the Spirit demonstrates that God, is living within us.

Many people do not believe in the existence of heaven, ignorant to the fact that whenever they talk to a baptized, born again Christian, they are in close proximity to the Kingdom of God. We need to make the Kingdom visible to the people around us by the joyful way we live our lives.

Jesus talked about his second coming (v.30-35). It will happen without warning, while people are going about their normal daily business or ‘safely’ tucked up in bed. Each individual will have to stand in front of God and receive their personal judgement. We can’t rely on the faith or good works of anyone else to save us. We will rely on our personal faith in Jesus as our saviour who justified us with God through his death on the cross. He is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1).

Psalm 46:1-11

At the second visible coming of Jesus, even though ‘nations are in uproar‘ and ‘kingdoms fall‘ (v.6), the Lord will be with us, as he is now – our strength, refuge and fortress. We will not fear judgement because we know we are beloved children of God – made righteous through the precious blood of Christ.

He will end all wars (v.9). He will banish all articles of war.

The Holy Spirit within us makes us glad with his streams of living water. As Christians, our hearts are ‘the holy place where the Most High dwells‘ (v.4). When we come to our Father in prayer, it is a precious time to ‘be still‘ and know that He is God (v.10). God is our ‘ever-present help’ (v.1). The billions of Christians throughout the world join in with our worship, exalting him among the nations (v.10).

Image: Sailko, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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