Jonathan attacks the Philistines / Jesus Predicts Betrayal and Denial: May 23rd 2021

1 Samuel 13:1-14:23

Saul reigned over Israel for forty-two years from the age of thirty (v.1).

The Israelites attacked a Philistine army outpost and so, in retaliation, a massive Philistine army advanced on them. Saul waited for the prophet Samuel at Gilgal for seven days, while his troops quaked with fear, and, in the end, made the disastrous mistake of offering up the burnt offering to God in place of Samuel. Of course, Samuel arrived just as he finished. Samuel was not pleased and informed Saul that because he had not kept God’s command, Saul’s kingdom would not endure. Saul should have been more concerned with obedience to God rather than his army starting to scatter. The process to replace Saul had already started and the Lord had now ‘sought out a man after his own heart’ (v.13) and appointed him leader instead.

I feel sorry for Saul at this stage in the story. If Samuel had been on time, the sacrifices would have been carried out by him, a priest, in accordance with the law. Saul was under a lot of pressure and feeling desperate prior to a major battle. However, God demands faith, patience and obedience. There are many sacraments today that can only be carried out by fully ordained priests: Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation and formal exorcisms. Lay people are allowed to carry out other informal private prayers including prayers of deliverance due to our baptismal roles as priests, prophets and kings. However, we are not allowed to start presiding over one of the priestly functions just because a priest is late. We have to wait / delay until a fully ordained minister is present.

Saul had a tiny army (six hundred men) and only he and his son, Jonathan, had a sword or a spear. The Philistines had wisely not allowed any blacksmiths to work in Israel for fear that the Israelites would arm themselves.

Jonathan and his armour bearer walked towards a Philistine outpost and Jonathan prophesied that if the Philistines invited them to climb a cliff to fight them, then the Lord would deliver them into their hands. The Philistines shouted: ‘Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson’ (v.12). Jonathan and his assistant climbed up and killed twenty of them. Jonathan was full of faith that the Lord had given them into the hand of Israel.

The rest of the Philistine army panicked as the ground shook. ‘It was a panic sent by God’ (v.15). Saul and his men assembled and joined the battle and found the Philistines ‘in total confusion, striking each other with their swords’ (v.20). God had rescued the Israelite army that day but it took one man, Jonathan, to start the battle with great faith. Only then did God join in and decisively alter the course of history. If Jonathan had not attacked first, the Israelites may well have been defeated. To win victories, we need to step out in faith believing that God will hold to his promises and back us up, giving us a seemingly impossible victory for his everlasting glory.

John 13:18-38

When we accept our fellow Christians sent by Jesus, we also accept Jesus himself and God the Father. We should strive to work with, love and respect Christians of all denominations. We all have so much in common. A mark of being filled with the Holy Spirit is a desire to create a single unified church and mix with all other types of Christians.

As soon as Jesus gave a dipped piece of bread to Judas Iscariot ‘Satan entered into him (Judas)’ (v.27). Jesus fed the very one who would betray him into death. Judas was sitting next to Jesus, the Chief Exorcist, yet the most evil creature in history was still able to set up home in him. Jesus could have exorcised him but only if Judas wanted him to. We cannot deliver people who willingly give themselves over to demons and don’t want to be helped. Judas went outside into the night where he probably felt a lot more at home. He now had the ultimate darkness within him and wanted to be as far away from Jesus, the light of the world, as he could.

People will know we are Jesus’ disciples if they can see we love everyone. We prove this by deeds not just words. We must love one another as Jesus loves us. Attend churches where people show genuine love and are pleased to see each other and bring this love to other churches you visit. Don’t stick to one denomination, go and make friends with Christians of all varieties. We all need each other and have different strengths and weaknesses. Together we make up the complete body of the church. Imagine our journey to God as a bicycle wheel. We start out on the outer rim and move inwards on our own individual spoke towards God in the centre. As we move in closer to God, we also get closer to other Christians, travelling on their own spokes, as they make their own journeys towards God.

Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times that very night. Peter had just said: ‘I will lay down my life for you’ (v.37).

Eventually, they were both right. Peter did deny Jesus three times but wept bitterly afterwards and was personally forgiven by Jesus. After being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, becoming one of the most dynamic Christian evangelists of all time, Peter would eventually lay down his life for Jesus. He was crucified upside-down on the orders of the evil emperor, Nero, in Rome.

Psalm 66:13-20

If we make vows to God while we are in trouble, we have to honour and fulfil them when he rescues us.

We must tell others our testimonies of what our Father has done for us. Faith comes from hearing.

When we cry out to God, we need to do it against a background of regularly praising him. If we cherish sin in our heart, our prayers will not be listened to (v.18). It is especially important to forgive and love all who have wronged us. Pray for them and ask that God’s blessing will descend upon them and their families and that they will be filled with the Holy Spirit and led to eternal life.

If we continually live in God’s grace, he will not reject our prayer or withhold his love from us.

Praise be to God!

Image:  https://pixabay.com/photos/maundy-thursday-last-supper-6145303/

Saul Anointed as King / Jesus Predicts his Death: May 21st 2021

1 Samuel 8:1-10:8

Even the great prophet Samuel could not get his children to behave. Even though he had appointed his sons as responsible judges they ‘accepted bribes and perverted justice’ (v.3). The elders of Israel asked Samuel to appoint a king to rule over them instead. Samuel was upset about this but God saw it as a progression in the way they had rejected Him from the time of the Exodus. Samuel warned the Israelites of the oppression, taxation, exploitation and slavery that a human king would subject them to but they refused to listen. The Israelites wanted to be like all the other nations – with a king to lead them, go out before them and fight their battles (v.20). They rejected the chance to be special, to wholeheartedly choose God as their king. They rejected the all-powerful God, who had saved them repeatedly with stunning miracles, to put their trust in a mortal man. God told Samuel to listen to them and do what they wanted.

A tall man named Saul was sent out by his father to look for their lost donkeys. After much fruitless searching, his servant suggested that they should ask the man of God, Samuel, for advice. Samuel had been told by God to anoint the Benjamite he was now sending to him as king.

Samuel told Saul not to worry about the donkeys he lost three days ago – they had already been found. This supernatural knowledge would have impressed Saul who was told to eat with Samuel and listen to his prophecy the following morning.

The next morning Samuel took a flask of oil and anointed Saul’s head and kissed him. He gave him detailed prophetic instructions about who he would meet on his travels and where these encounters would be. Saul would eventually meet a procession of prophets and then, the Spirit of the Lord would come on him in power. He would prophesy with them and ‘you will be changed into a different person’ (10:6). We are changed into a different person – a new species – by repenting and renouncing sin, becoming baptized, inviting Jesus into our lives as our personal Saviour and asking the Holy Spirit to fully activate his gifts within us.

Samuel instructed Saul to wait for him at Gilgal for seven days. Samuel would come to sacrifice offerings to God. If Saul showed his obedience to these instructions, his kingship would be off to a good start.

John 12:12-36

Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem by shouting crowds: ‘Blessed is the King of Israel’ (v.13). Jesus rode into the city on a young donkey in accordance with Old Testament prophecy. People were still flocking to him because he had shown his mastery over death by raising Lazarus from the tomb. The Pharisees were even more envious of his popularity and success. Envy is what brought the whole of humanity down, because the Devil was envious of God’s special relationship with Adam and Eve and so vowed to destroy us, by demonstrating we are not worthy of God’s love.

People from other countries, such as Greece, were asking to see Jesus. They would take his teaching back to his home nations, sowing a seed of faith to be harvested by later disciples.

Jesus pointed out that when a grain of wheat falls to the ground and ‘dies’, it then germinates, grows and eventually produces many seeds. Jesus’ death on the cross (and his resurrection) would lead to the worldwide spread of Christianity to every nation on the planet.

If we serve Jesus, he promised that his Father would honour us (v.26). Jesus asked his Father to glorify his name and a thundering voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again’ (v.28).

Jesus said it was time for judgement and ‘the prince of this world (the devil) would be driven out’ (v.31). The reason Jesus came to earth was to destroy the works of the devil such as sickness, oppression and death.

Jesus predicted his own crucifixion: ‘But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ (v.32). Jesus’ heart was troubled (v.27) at the prospect of his self-sacrificial death but he trusted his Father would deliver him.

We need to choose Jesus as the light of our lives while we are still alive. Our mortal lifespans are short. Your life could end suddenly today or tomorrow and then it will be too late to choose eternal life. We need to come to him with urgency because once we are dead and darkness has overcome us, it will be too late to choose eternal life. His light will dawn within us and shine out to others, illuminating the way to Jesus and salvation.

‘Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons (and daughters) of light’ (v.36).

Psalm 65:1-13

God forgives our transgressions, through the blood of his precious son, when we are overwhelmed by sin. He calls each one of us to him, we just have to respond to his voice. He knows our futures, who will respond to him and be blessed and who will reject his gift of eternal life.

Jesus created the whole wonderful world at Gods command: the magnificent mountains, the abundant land and the roaring seas. God cares for the land, watering it and enriching it.

He fills the world with flocks of Christians and clothes us with gladness so that we can shout for joy and sing.

He cares for our souls, filling our hearts with streams of living water from the Holy Spirit and enriching us with his word do that we can produce fruit in abundance.

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/49102781@N03/4500058491

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

Jesus is ‘The Light of the World’: May 14th 2021

Judges 18:1-19:30

Israel had no king and they had rejected God as their ruler.

The Danite tribe were without a permanent home. They had not yet settled in any particular area. They sent out five warriors to spy out the land. They came across the young Levite, who was a paid priest in Micah’s house, and later returned with six hundred armed Danites and stole the carved image, the ephod, the other household gods and the cast idol (v.17) from Micah’s homemade non-official shrine.

They persuaded the young priest to go with them to minister to their whole tribe rather than just to Micah’s household. Micah tried to chase over after them and intervene but their fighting force was too strong for him to attack. He was distraught at the loss of his manufactured ‘gods’ along with his unofficial priest: ‘What else do I have?’ (v.24). He was probably more upset about the monetary value of his idols than their spiritual worth. If they hadn’t been made out of silver, he could have simply made more of his worthless ‘gods’.

The Danites attacked the peaceful and unsuspecting people of Laish and settled there. There, they set up the stolen idols and their own Levite priests all the time the official house of God was in Shiloh. Israel have not just rejected God as their leader and lost their human leaders, they have started stealing good-luck deities from each other. They were basically starting up their own local religions. This wasn’t going to end well. The one true God is a jealous God.

As children of God we now know better: ‘Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:29-30).

A Levite and His Concubine

This is a very disturbing story. The Israelites living in Gibeah, who were Benjamites, had started acting like the people in Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), prior to its destruction. Evil men in the town wanted to rape visitors, rather than shelter them for the night. A few people, like Lot in Sodom, still showed outstanding hospitality and generosity but they were outnumbered and surrounded by wicked, sexually-depraved neighbours.

A man who had suffered from their actions sent a gruesome package to all the other areas of Israel. He challenged the other Israelites to see if they would tolerate such dark wickedness in the Promised Land. Lacking a moral leader, Israel was descending into chaos. They desperately lacked a powerful saviour who could bring light into their darkened world.

John 8:12-30

Jesus told the people, ‘I am the light of the world’ (v.12). He promised us the ‘light of life’ when we follow him. People who don’t follow him walk in darkness, stumbling around and falling down pits of deception to their eternal death. As disciples of Jesus we can bring his light to dispel any darkness we encounter and illuminate the way to life so people can choose it.

Jesus’ decisions are always correct. Jewish law required two witnesses for a valid testimony. Jesus always had his Father to back him up (and the Holy Spirit). That makes three!

Jesus confirmed that belief in him is vital if we are to die without the punishment that our sins merit: ‘I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins’ (v.24).

When Jesus was crucified, the world went dark as his light left us. There was an earthquake, the dead left their tombs and the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom; then more people realised that Jesus was the Son Of God.

Jesus told the Pharisees twice in today’s reading that he was God using the most Holy name of God: ‘I am’ (8:24,28). We can proudly tell everyone that we are adopted children of God on account of our baptism and belief in Christ.

We should always try to do what pleases God. Jesus spoke what God had taught him (v.28). The Father was always with Jesus, just as the Holy Trinity is always with those who place their faith in Jesus.

Psalm 60:5-12

King David called on God to help him and his people with his right hand. God loves the Israelites and will be faithful to his covenant with them.

Compared to the help of God, the assistance of man is worthless.

David knew that with God he would always gain the victory over his enemies. However, if we persistently sin against God he can temporarily reject us. However, God will not spurn a contrite heart. He will listen to our desperate prayers.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Image: Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

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