David Mourns for his Son / The Stoning of Stephen: June 12th 2021

2 Samuel 18:19-19:43

Ahiamaaz, son of Zadok, was keen to take the news of Absalom’s death to King David. However, Joab, the commander of David’s army, who had organised the killing of David’s son knew this would not be well received. He asked a dispensable Cushite to deliver the news instead. Joab knew that David had executed bearers of similar news on previous occasions and so it wasn’t a desirable task (2 Sam.18:22).

Ahiamaaz outran the Cushite but didn’t plainly tell David about Absalom’s death. The Cushite caught up and told David about his son’s fate. As Joab had predicted. David did not take the news well but at least he didn’t kill the messengers (2 Sam.18:33).

David wept and mourned for his son – the same son who had betrayed him and wanted him dead. Even though they had won a great victory, his army felt ashamed of their actions. Joab was furious and told David that he had humiliated his men: ‘You love those who hate you and hate those who love you’ (2 Sam.19:6-7). He told David to go and encourage his loyal men or there would be terrible consequences for his rule. To his credit, David accepted this valid criticism and realised his ingratitude. His men had loyally risked their lives for him and he sat down in front of his men (2 Sam.19:8).

It had been a very strange attempted coup. Both sides had been quite civil to each other. King David was generally liked as a monarch and there wasn’t an urgent need to replace him apart from his son having better hair and being slightly more popular. King David didn’t want his son harmed even though he had almost lost his throne to him. The whole affair had left the citizens of Israel and Judah very confused and in conflict with each other.

King David won the hearts of all the men of Judah again and they asked him and his men to return. They met him at the ford over the Jordan to welcome him home. Even Shimei, who had previously shouted curses at David, came to apologise. One of David’s retinue, Abishai, wanted to put Shimei to death for his sins but David rebuked him (2 Sam:19:22) in a similar way to Jesus rebuking James and John for wanting to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54-55). David graciously pardoned Shimei.

Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth, also came to meet David. He explained that he had wanted to travel with David but had been betrayed by Ziba, his servant. David had earlier given Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s fields but on hearing this version of events ordered that they should be split equally. Mephibosheth said he didn’t want any land. He was just happy to see David home safely.

David wanted to repay his ally, Barzillai, for his support but he wouldn’t allow this. David blessed him instead and allowed him to return home. When David crossed over the Jordan, he was accompanied by all the men of Judah but just half the troops of Israel. This caused a large argument between Judah and Israel over who had more of a claim on David.

David was back in charge over a divided kingdom with the two major divisions bickering with each other. David had shown love for those who cursed and attacked him (Absalom and Shimei), he had demonstrated forgiveness of his enemies (the troops of Israel) and taken on board valid criticism (Joab). David had patiently listened to people’s apologies and excuses (Mephibosheth and Shimei) and he had blessed his friends (Barzillai and Kimham). However, he had punished those who had not followed his instructions. He had appointed the leader of the rebel army, Amasa, as commander of his army in place of Job (2 Sam.19:13). Job had stopped the civil war by killing David’s son but this was in defiance of David’s explicit instructions.

Just as God had punished Saul for not quite following his instructions, David was prepared to remove people who did not show complete obedience. David was a master politician and had managed to negotiate a return to his kingdom but he still had much work to do to reunite the nation.

Acts 7:44-8:3

Stephen finished his history of the Jewish nation with the devastating conclusion: ‘However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men’ (Acts 7:48). God was not confined just to the Jewish temple, with just the religious elite allowed to communicate with him once a year. Ezekiel had demonstrated in earlier scripture that when the Israelites had been exiled by the Babylonians, God had travelled with them. God is everywhere and in everything (Acts 7:50) and now, through the Holy Spirit, he is powerfully active within every individual Christian.

Stephen suddenly launched a verbal assault on the Sanhedrin. He even disowned them, calling their ancestors ‘your fathers’ rather than ‘our forefathers’ as he had done earlier. Their ancestors had persecuted all the prophets and had now betrayed and murdered the Righteous One (Acts 7:52). They had not obeyed the law and so, according to their own laws, should die. They would do so if they carried on being stiff-necked, resisting the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ invitation to eternal life through baptism and belief in him.

The Sanhedrin were furious. Truth is often unpopular. Stephen wasn’t bothered. He was full of the Holy Spirit. God was actually now living in him but his persecutors did not recognise God right in front of their furious faces. Stephen was consoled by a wonderful vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen was soon to join Jesus in heaven as he was stoned to death and became the first Christian martyr. Stephen prayed that their sin should not be held against them (Acts 7:60) just as Jesus prayed ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34).

A young man, Saul, approved of Stephen’s death. He wanted to persecute and murder all Christians. He would shortly undergo one of the most dramatic transformations in the history of Christianity.

Persecution broke out and all, except the apostles, were scattered (Acts 8:1). Wherever the disciples fled, they preached the gospel and converted many.

God frustrates the plans of evil people. They had hoped to eliminate the church through persecution but their efforts forced the disciples to travel and evangelise; this made the church grow much faster than if they had been left in peace. It must have been distressing for the early Christians to flee from their homes but the miracles, signs, wonders and fruitfulness that the Holy Spirit worked through them brought consolation. ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Psalm 73:1-14

If we are not careful, we can start to ask ourselves why we bother to be Christians. Why do we suffer the abuse, hassle and pain of being ignored? Is it all in vain?

Non-believers can appear to be more prosperous, more confident, carefree and proud about their healthy and strong bodies.

However, envy is a major sin. We need to count the priceless blessings that God has given us throughout our lives. Our treasure is an everlasting treasure in heaven (Matt.6:19-20).

We should not become like the wicked who scoff and speak with malice (Ps.73:8). ‘From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits’ (Ps.73:7).

Our destinies will be completely different. The wicked are on slippery ground and will suddenly be destroyed (Ps.73:18-19). In contrast, we will enter the sanctuary of God.

No matter how poorly we seem to be faring relative to the secular values of the consumerist world, when the Holy Spirit lives within us we have eternal joy in our hearts which can never be shaken: (Galatians 5:22). We should share with the world our testimony of his glorious deeds.

God will eternally be our refuge and our strength.

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

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit: May 24th 2021

1 Samuel 14:24-15:35

Saul had bound his army under a curse and stipulated that no-one was allowed to eat anything until evening. This seems very unreasonable as an army ‘marches on its stomach’. No-one told Jonathan, Saul’s son, about this and so when he came across some wild honey he ate a little ‘and his eyes brightened’ (v.27). When told about the curse for eating, Jonathan denounced it as a bad idea.

Other solders started to eat some of the livestock they had plundered from the Amalekites, together with its blood – which is strictly against God’s rules. Saul pointed out their error: ‘You have broken faith’ (v.33). He made them butcher the animals in accordance with Jewish law and set up his first altar.

Saul asked God if his army should continue to raid the Philistines. God was silent on the matter. Sin was blocking communication. Saul prayed to God and cast lots to find out who in his whole army had sinned. He found out that it was his son, Jonathan.

Jonathan thought it was very unfair that he should be sentenced to death for innocently eating a little honey and all of the army agreed. Jonathan had been the hero who had initiated the victorious assault on the Philistines. The loyal army rescued Jonathan ‘and he was not put to death’ (v.45).

After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he successfully inflicted punishment all the nation’s enemies on every side. He drafted mighty men into his service.

Samuel gave Saul God’s instructions to attack the wicked Amalekites and destroy everything that belonged to them (15:3).

Saul assembled a massive army and conquered them but he spared Agag, the Amalekite king, and the best of the livestock. God was sorry that he had made Saul king because he had not carried out his instructions. We might say: he had not carried out his instructions ‘fully’. However, nearly is not good enough for God. We have to comply with his requests to the letter.

Samuel was troubled by God complaining about Saul’s disobedience and rushed off to visit him. Saul was oblivious to his sin and jubilantly said: ‘I have carried out the Lord’s instructions’ (v.13). Samuel pointed out that the bleating of the Amalekite sheep and the lowing of their cattle indicated that he hadn’t. Saul then made the excuse that they had spared the best animals to sacrifice them to the Lord. However, the Lord demands obedience not sacrifice. ‘Rebellion is like the sin of divination and arrogance like the evil of idolatry’ (v.25). We must always heed God’s word and never dare to think that we know best.

Saul finally admitted his sin. He had ‘violated the Lord’s command and your instructions’ (v.24). He said he had been ‘afraid of the people and so I gave in to them’ (v.24). Saul begged Samuel to forgive him and go back with him and even tore the edge of Samuel’s robe in desperation. Samuel refused to listen. He said that God had rejected Saul as king over Israel and ‘he does not lie or change his mind’ (v.29). However, in the book of Jonah, God does relent from destroying the great city, Nineveh, after the Ninevites proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth. He proved then that he is a gracious and compassionate God.

Saul humbly declared he had sinned and begged Samuel to come back to Gilgal with him so that he could worship the Lord. Samuel agreed but he himself put Agag, the king of the Amalekites, to death. Samuel and Saul then separated and did not see each other again. Samuel mourned for Saul and ‘the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel’ (v.35).

The main point of the story seems to be that we should practice total obedience to God. Praise the Lord that we now have the Sacrament of Reconciliation / Confession that allows us to ask for God’s forgiveness when we have been less than perfect. Our righteousness has been granted to us through the precious blood sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 14:1-31

Jesus told us not to let our hearts be troubled (v.1). We should trust in God and trust in Jesus. Jesus will prepare a place for us in his Father’s house, which has many rooms. Jesus will come back and take us to be with him.

Jesus is ‘the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me’ (v.6). The disciples had seen Jesus and so had also seen God the Father. The Holy Trinity are all enmeshed together: Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus and the Holy Spirit proceeds from both of them.

If we have faith, we can carry out the miracles that Jesus did and we can ‘do even greater things than these’ (v.12). Jesus returned to God after three short years of public ministry and we have our entire lifetime to carry out miracles for the glory of God.

Jesus will do whatever we ask him in his name (v.13-14).

The Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and the Spirit of Truth, will be with us forever after we have been baptized. He will live in us and be with us. The secular world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. The Holy Spirit gives us supernatural power and love. The entry gift to unlocking that power is the gift of praying in tongues, which edifies us, building up our spirit within us to work for God.

Jesus also lives in us and we should become more like him every day by obeying his teaching / his commands of love. When we love Jesus, we are also loved by the Father. Jesus will show himself to us (v.21).

The Holy Spirit ‘will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’ said Jesus (v.26). This passage is at odds with some Christians who will only take their teaching directly from the words of the Bible. There has been almost two thousand years since Jesus died and in that time the Holy Spirit has gradually taught humans thousands of things that are only hinted at in the Bible. Jesus did not want us to set the Bible in stone and for the Holy Spirit not to evolve his teaching as we became more ready for it. Of course, scripture is the supreme authority and we should never believe something that is in opposition to it. The most famous example is the belief that Mary, Mother of Jesus, was within sin from the moment of her conception. That wasn’t confirmed as the truth until 1854. It is a logical deduction from scripture that someone can’t be the mother of the sinless son of God, unless she is herself within sin. This has long been the belief of lay people because it’s obvious. However, the Holy Spirit had to work on the head of the church for eighteen hundred years before it was finally confirmed as the truth. If you don’t believe this because it isn’t explicitly written in the Bible, you are eighteen hundred years behind the rest of us. Mary is also a very valuable ally. She is our powerful and compassionate friend and intercessor whenever we are fighting the devil. Demons are terrified of her and she will always come to our help. As Mother of God, she is mother of us all.

Jesus gave us his peace. The world tries to give us stress, worry and anxiety. However, we should not be troubled or afraid (v.27).

The ‘prince of the world’ (v.30), the devil, was on his way to fall into God’s trap by ensuring Jesus’ death on the cross. The devil had no hold on Jesus because Jesus never sinned. To remain out of the devil’s clutches we have to remain in a state of grace. As soon as we commit the smallest sin, we should pray to God for forgiveness so we keep ourselves from being soiled by the world. Small sins can become habitual and give a legal right for the devil to set up camp within us. We need to nip sin in the bud and ask God to forgive us on account of the precious blood of Jesus that wipes all sin away.

Jesus lived in total obedience to God even up to willingly accepting his death on the cross because: ‘the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me’ (v.31).

Proverbs 12:28-13:9

Jesus made us righteous in God’s eyes through his death on the cross. The light of the righteous shines brightly (v.9). Jesus is the light of the world.

We can never be wholly righteous through our own efforts but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. There is life in the way of righteousness, ‘along that path is immortality’ (v.28). ‘The righteous hate what is false’ (v.5).

If we are wise, we heed instruction (13:1). If we are gracious and loving with our words, we will enjoy good things. We should guard our lips and not speak rashly.

Image: Monchelsea, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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/

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