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

2 Samuel 22:1-23:7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must praise and exalt God.

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

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

Acts 9:1-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 73:15-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus raises Lazarus from the Dead: May 19th 2021

1 Samuel 2:27-4:22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 11:1-44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 64:1-10

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

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

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

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

Image: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro

The Birth of Samuel / Jesus gives us Eternal Life: May 18th 2021

1 Samuel 1:1-2:26

Hannah was not able to have children, unlike her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, who had children and was horrible to Hannah about this fact. Hannah was often in tears and would not eat due to Peninnah provoking her. This shows that polygamy is not a healthy situation, which is why it was banned by the time of the New Testament. God’s law is that one wife and one husband should be lovingly tied together with a supernatural spiritual soul-tie until death.

Hannah was often reduced to tears during her family’s annual visit to the house of the Lord in Shiloh. At the Lord’s temple, she wept and prayed, with her lips moving but her voice not being heard. She vowed to dedicate her first son to God, if he were to bless her with one, and she would never use a razor on his head. He would be a long-haired Nazirite like John the Baptist or Samson.

At first, Eli the priest thought she was drunk but when Hannah reassured him that she wasn’t and had been ‘pouring out my soul to the Lord’ (v.16) in great anguish and grief, Eli blessed her: ‘Go in peace and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him’ (v.17).

Hannah had faith that her prayers would be answered. She went away and ‘ate something, and her face was no longer downcast’ (v.18).

God heard their prayers and Hannah gave birth to a boy named Samuel, meaning ‘God heard’.

When Samuel had been weaned, Hannah took him to Eli the priest to give him to the Lord. According to non-canonical writings, this is what happened to the Virgin Mary. She was left at the temple by her parents, so she would be a vocational virgin all her life. However, she had to be taken out of the temple before puberty, as the temple could not be defiled by human blood, and it was arranged for the elderly widower, Joseph, to be her ‘husband’ / guardian.

Hannah prayed to the Lord. This is similar to the ‘Magnificat’ that Mary sings (Luke 1:46-55). Mary would have been exceedingly well educated on the scriptures, having been brought up in the temple, and probably knew Hannah’s prayer by heart. Hannah’s prayer starts: ‘My heart rejoices in the Lord’ (2:1). Mary’s song starts: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ (Luke 1:47). Hannah didn’t start her prayer delighting in her son that the Lord had given her. Her prayer didn’t focus on her own blessings. She delighted in God’s faithful provision, justice and mercy for the poor and the needy on a global scale.

They are both magnificent prayers. Hannah ‘boasts over my enemies’ (2:1) but Mary, who never sinned, remained humble: ‘he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant’ (Luke 1:48). Mary knew that all generations would call her blessed but not due to her own deeds but because ‘the Mighty one has done great things for me’ (Luke 1:49). Hannah rejoiced that the Lord strengthens the weak, the poor, the needy and the hungry. He gives children to the barren.

Hannah prophesised that God would raise Jesus from the dead: ‘The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up’ (2:6). People who oppose the Lord will be shattered and He will judge the ends of the earth (v.10). Israel had no king yet but Hannah prophesied that one would be appointed: ‘He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed’ (v.10).

Hannah’s infant son, Samuel, stayed in Shiloh and ministered to the Lord under the care and instruction of Eli. Hannah continued to be blessed by the Lord and had three sons and two daughters (v.21).

The two sons of Eli, the priest, were wicked men. They would plunder the meat brought for the sacrifices before the allotted time and slept with the women who ‘served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting’ (v.22). It is extremely important for Christians, particularly religious leaders, to keep themselves pure as people will be watching their every move – looking for every opportunity to criticise them and their religion. Sexual scandals within the church have done terrible damage to everyone involved and also to onlookers. It is one of the most basic tricks of the devil to persuade people that the church has no merit, by revealing the sins of church leaders. Church leaders are under a much higher level of attack / temptation than others as it is so advantageous to the demonic realm if they fall. However, a higher degree of temptation is no excuse as God will always give us sufficient grace to resist any temptation.

Eli should have denounced his sons and removed them from their priestly role. He rebuked them and they ignored his complaints because ‘it was the Lord’s will to put them to death’ (v.25). This shows that people carrying out professional religious duties are in no way safe from God’s righteous anger and judgment. God knows our hearts and will be fully aware if we are working for our own pride and to gain immoral benefits or if we are working out of love for him and our fellow humans.

The boy Samuel grew up in a similar positive way as the child Jesus (Luke 2:52). The boy Samuel grew ‘in stature and in favour with the Lord and with men (v.26)’. Jesus grew ‘in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man’ (Luke 2:52). Jesus was always wise because he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, the fount of wisdom, and was completely filled with the Holy Spirit from the minute of his conception.

John 10:22-42

Through our baptism and belief in Jesus, we become ‘his sheep’, listen to his voice and follow him (v.27). He gives us eternal life and we will never perish. No matter what is thrown at us, Jesus reassures us that ‘no-one can snatch them (us) out of my hand’ (v.28). If Jesus holds us in his hand, we are also in God the Father’s hand because Jesus said: ‘I and the Father are one’ (v.30). We cannot earn our salvation through our own good deeds – it is a free gift from God on account of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. It is an eternal gift – no-one can snatch us from Jesus’ hand – but we can prise ourselves out of Jesus’ hands and go wandering off again to commit grave sin. God will respect our free will even though he will desperately long for us to return.

Even if the Pharisees didn’t believe Jesus’ words, they should have believed him through the miracles that he did. Similarly, non-Christians today might not believe us when we tell them the gospel but if we demonstrate the presence of the living God through healing, delivering them and giving them supernatural words of knowledge and prophecies they should believe. Only the most stubborn and hard-hearted will reject Jesus when his healing power has directly touched their lives. To demonstrate supernatural power, we have to be moving in the gifts of the Spirit having fully invited Jesus and the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts to save and empower us.

Jesus returned to where John had baptised in the early days. John was a prophet not a miracle worker. John never performed a miraculous sign (v.41) even though he was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born (Luke 1:15). Sometimes we have to go back to our origins for people to witness how much progress we have made. When they now saw Jesus at the peak of his public ministry, many recognised that John the Baptist had been truthfully foretelling the immediate future. John’s prophetic words had come true in their own lifetime and they could now see the miracle-working Messiah with their own eyes: ‘and in that place many believed in Jesus’ (v.42).

Psalm 63:1-11

Our souls thirst for God and we will never be satisfied until we abide in him.

We can battle through life in a dry and weary land with no water as a type of living hell (the actual eternal hell has no water at all) or we can choose to come to Jesus – the fountain of living water. If we drink the water he gives us, we will never go thirsty again.

When we can’t sleep at night – let us remember and meditate on God. Pray the perfect prayer to him by praying in tongues – hand over your voice to the Holy Spirit for him to pray through you and for you.

We should cling to God, lift up our hands to praise him and shelter in the shadow of his wings because he is our help and his right hand upholds us.

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

Birth of Samson / Many Disciples Desert Jesus: May 11th 2021

Judges 12:1-13:25

Just as the Ephraimites had previously criticised Gideon for not calling them to fight Israel’s enemies (Judges 8:1-3), they now criticised Jephthah. The Ephraimites had never led a rebellion against Israel’s oppressors. They just had an irritating habit of jealously criticizing anyone else who did it. They were so furious, they threatened to burn down Jephthah’s house.

Jephthah didn’t diplomatically flatter them as Gideon had done. He said that he had called them, they hadn’t responded and so he launched the attack himself with the Lord helping him to victory. The Gileadites, under Jephthah’s command, wouldn’t put up with being called renegades and fought the Ephraimites, their fellow Israelites, killing forty-two thousand of them. They conducted ethnic cleansing by forcing anyone who wanted to cross a river ford to say ‘Shibboleth’ and executing the people from Ephraim, who pronounced it differently.

After Jephthah came an assortment of other judges until the birth of Samson.

The Israelites committed evil again and so, the Lord ‘delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years (13:1). A man called Manoah had a wife who was sterile. An angel appeared to tell her she would conceive and have a son. Inability to conceive is a common recurrent theme in the Bible with Elizabeth sterile until giving birth to John the Baptist and Hannah not having children before becoming pregnant with the prophet Samuel. However, both Elizabeth and Hannah had prayed to God to have a child. Samson’s mother is very matter of fact about this annunciation and doesn’t praise God for helping her.

This lady is instructed not to drink wine or any fermented drink and not to shave the baby’s head for he is going to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, similar to John the Baptist. Manoah prays to God for further information and the angel was sent again with the same set of instructions. Manoah said he would like the angel to stay while he prepared a meal for him, a young goat. The angel said he wouldn’t eat it ‘even though you detain me’ (v.16). So not only had God sent the angel as a messenger, but the angel was also under orders to follow the couple’s requests to a limited extent. Manoah then made another faux pas by asking for the angel’s name. We are not permitted to know the name of any angels, apart from the archangels referenced in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. An official exorcist will ask the name of a demon during an authorised exorcism but this is dangerous for lay people and is banned. When we know the name of the spiritual entity, we can summon them and tell them to leave – if we have sufficient authority. However, angels and demons do not like people having this knowledge over them. When lay people carry out deliverance prayers, the Holy Spirit can tell them the name of the oppressing demon as a word of knowledge. As this information has come from God, it can then be used to drive out the demon.

As Manoah sacrificed a goat and a grain offering on a rock, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame (v.20). Samson’s mother – who is never named – eventually gave birth to Samson and the Lord blessed him as he grew. Eventually, the Spirit of the Lord started to stir him (v.25). He was obviously destined for great things.

John 6:60 – 7:13

Many of Jesus’ disciples started to grumble about his ‘eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood’ teaching. We still get this today. A huge percentage of Christians refuse to acknowledge that Catholics eat Jesus’ actual flesh and drink his actual blood during the Holy Eucharist. They don’t believe that an actual miracle takes place during every Holy Mass resulting in ordinary bread and wine becoming the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Modern Catholics haven’t helped this disbelief with the great majority not demonstrating any detectable benefit from consuming Jesus’ body and blood. If everyone could see that Catholic’s faces were shining with the presence of God and they rushed around preaching, healing the sick and delivering people, more people would desire full communion with the Mother Church. To become invigorated, Catholics can undergo ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ and start to exercise the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s a tragedy that the main group of non-Catholics who believe in transubstantiation are witches and devil worshippers. They often have to obtain a consecrated wafer before being allowed to join a coven. The desecration of the Holy Body of Jesus is a terrible part of the initiation ceremony.

The words that Jesus had spoken ‘are spirit and they are life’ (v.63). It is amazing that many ‘disciples’ were following Jesus, hearing his teaching and witnessing his miracles but still did not believe in him. If we attend church and say we are Christians, we have to search our own hearts to determine our own state of believe. We can pray the classic prayer: ‘Jesus, I believe; help my unbelief’.

‘No-one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him’ (v.65). In the Bible, there are many instances where God hardens people’s hearts for specific purposes. What does it mean that our Father God has to enable us before we can come to Jesus? This is a great mystery. We all have free will. We all have God’s law written on our hearts. We all have sufficient saving grace – as a free gift from God – that if we exercised our free will to believe in Jesus, he would come into our lives. Time means nothing to God. The past, present and future are all the same to him. So he knows whether we will, in the future, choose to come to God. Because he knows the people who will definitely do this (as he knows all our futures), he gives them the grace to go ahead and do it – in effect, enabling us. Salvation is a complicated topic. Someone might turn up at the gates of heaven, who had been given hardened heart all their life for some purpose and who had met ‘Christians’ who had behaved so appallingly they had put them off joining the church. We just have to leave all individual judgements in Jesus’ hands.

However, belief is also a simple choice. We can switch on a reputable news channel and decide that they are telling us us the truth about a dozen events happening in the world. We can believe the journalists are endeavouring to tell us the facts to the best of their ability. Similarly, it is very easy for billions of Christians to believe in the stories about Jesus in the Bible, believe in the thousands of eye-witnesses who saw his miracles, believe in the thousands of holy people who have been martyred over the last two thousand years on account of their witness to Jesus and who have successfully spread the gospel to the end of the world. Belief is a switch we can just flick in our brains to swap us from disobedience. Lorcán O’Reilly (OMI) wrote: ‘Many people think they have no faith because they feel they haven’t. They do not realise they must make a choice to believe, take the risk of believing, of committing themselves and setting themselves to live out the commitment. Never mind that they continue to feel that they do not believe. Under cover of being ‘authentic’ we can spend our lives waiting for the kind of certainty we cannot have’ (Oblate Connections – No.46, Feb. 2020).

Simon Peter and ten other disciples remained loyal to Jesus: ‘You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ (v.69).

Jesus avoided Judea and Jerusalem because: ‘the Jews there were waiting to take his life’ (7:1). Jesus was encouraged to go to Judea to show off his miracles in public but the time was not right. When the right time came, Jesus would willingly lay his life down for us but that time would be dictated by the Holy Spirit, not by disbelieving men.

The world hated Jesus because he testified that what it does is evil (v.7). Talking about the great injustices in the world does not make you popular. If you ever want to turn a dinner party into a riot, bring up how evil we all are at allowing over 200,000 unborn children in the UK to be executed each year through abortion. However, the fact that we don’t say this enough allows this practice to continue. We all need to channel our inner Greta Thunberg and stand up and say the truth, whatever the cost.

People whispered their opinions about Jesus in secret at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus moved around in disguise. ‘No-one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews’ (v.13). Many people today are secret believers in Jesus. If they talk about their faith, they will face abuse and criticism from the world. However, we need to stand up and be counted. If we declare our faith in Jesus openly, he will stand up for us at the Day of Judgement

Psalm 59:9-17

God is our strength and fortress. He is our refuge in times of trouble.

Evil people are caught out in their pride by the lying words of their cursing lips.

We should always sing praises to our loving God. Worship him alone.

Image: https://picryl.com/media/an-angel-announces-the-birth-of-samson-to-manoah-and-his-wife-0ac785

Gideon / Life through Jesus: May 7th 2021

Judges 6:1-7:8a

The Israelites once again committed evil and so were handed over to the Midianites for seven years. Reading Judges becomes pretty frustrating wondering how a whole nation could so persistently annoy God over and over again. The Israelites faced terrible consequences for their disobedience on a cyclical basis: sin, punishment, grieving / crying out to God, and deliverance. However, I used to commit exactly the same sins on a cyclical basis, I would be washed clean by confession but, within a few weeks, even though I rejoiced when I was forgiven by God, I was doing the same things again. My constant cycle of sinning and repentance was only broken when I handed myself over to the Holy Spirit for him to pray through me and build me up, edifying and sanctifying me. Sometimes, sinful thoughts start to creep back in but these can be batted away and not engaged with. The more we Pray in Tongues, the more we can stay on the straight and narrow path.

The Israelites had to hide in mountain clefts and caves because the Midianites were so oppressive. Moses’ father-in-law and wife had been a Midianite. The Israelite’s crops and livestock were repeatedly plundered leaving them so impoverished that ‘they cried out to the Lord for help’ (v.6). God tried to get them to return to him by hitting them in the pocket. A lack of finances and food can clarify people’s attitude to their provider.

The angel of the Lord went to speak to an Israelite called Gideon while he was surreptitiously threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. Gideon questioned his greeting: ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior’ (v.12). The dire straits that the Israelites were in did not concur with the Lord being with them.

Here we might have another Christophany – an actual appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament. Because the text turns from ‘the angel of the Lord’ speaking to Gideon, to saying it was actually God holding the conversation: ‘The Lord turned to him and said’ (v.14)’. This encounter is similar to the one with Abraham (Genesis 18:1-33). Abraham had a visit from Jesus and two angels. Whereas, Gideon had a visit from Jesus and one angel. The Lord / Jesus promised to be with Gideon as he struck down all the Midianites together (v.16). This seemed like an unlikely feat because Gideon’s clan was the ‘weakest in Manasseh’ and he was the least in his family (v.15). However, God can use seemingly weak, ordinary people living in obscurity to do wonderful things just as he chose the virgin Mary, an unmarried teenager, to be the mother of our Saviour.

The Lord / Jesus promised to stay while Gideon went to fetch an offering (v.18). Gideon wanted proof that it really was the Lord speaking to him and seemed to get away with this unwise impertinence. Jesus was in a peaceful mood and full of forgiveness. Gideon was told to place his offering on a rock. ‘The angel of God’ touched the meat and unleavened bread with the tip of a staff and fire flared from the rock consuming the offering. This is similar to the covenant that God made with Abraham (Genesis 15:17-20) when God gave the promised land to Abraham and his descendants. It was now time for Gideon to reclaim the territory given to them by God.

Gideon was told by the Lord to cut down his father’s altar to the evil Canaanite deity Baal and the pole that signified worship of his alleged mother, Asherah. These were the Canaanite demonic fertility gods that the surviving inter-marrying pagans had persuade the Israelites to worship begging for agricultural success. Gideon was to recycle the wood from the pagan altar to make a proper sacrifice to the one true God. Gideon did this but at night, because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town (v.27).

The men of the town wanted to execute Gideon for his actions but his father, Joash, defended him. He was obviously feeling guilty about worshipping pagan gods. He pointed out that if Baal really is a god, he can fight for himself. As a result, Gideon is renamed ‘Jerub-Baal’ meaning ‘Let Baal contend with him’ (v.32).

The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and he blew a trumpet calling the Israelites to arms (v.34).

Gideon tested the Lord twice more to see if he really would save Israel – asking him to make a sheep’s fleece wet with dew one night (while the ground stayed dry) and then to keep a fleece dry (despite heavy dew) the next night. God loves using water for miraculous purposes and happily complied. Considering that Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, was struck dumb for querying the angel Gabriel just once (Luke 1:20), Gideon really seemed to be pushing his luck.

Gideon assembled thirty-two thousand Israelites to fight for freedom but that would have been too easy for them. God wanted to demonstrate that it was his strength that brought the victory. He whittled the army down to just 300 by telling Gideon to only select fighters who lapped water ‘with their hands to their mouths’ (7:5). God promised that he would save Gideon and defeat the Midianites even with this meagre fighting force.

Gideon didn’t require any more reassurance now that the fight was approaching. God had proven three times that it was him who had commissioned Gideon for this battle. Gideon had finally found his faith.

John 5:16-30

Jesus carried on performing miracles on the Sabbath and calling God his Father. The Jews tried even harder to kill him (v.18). We must ensure that we never become legalistic, blinkered and prejudiced, failing to discern and appreciate the holy work of God going on around us.

Jesus said that he could do nothing by himself, he could only do what he had seen his Father doing (v.19). Jesus’s Father loves him and ‘shows him all he does’ (v.20).

Jesus confirmed that his Father can raise the dead and so Jesus will give life ‘to whom he is pleased to give it’ (v.21). All judgment has been entrusted to Jesus. Anyone who does not honour Jesus, does not honour God who sent him (v.23). We will cross over from death to life if we hear Jesus’ words and believe in him (v.24). We will not be condemned. Jesus predicted that soon the dead would hear his voice and live. Jesus descended into hell after his death on the cross to rescue the righteous and allow them to enter heaven: ‘those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned’ (v.29).

In just a few verses we find some confusion as to whether our salvation is based on faith alone or a combination of faith and deeds. Jesus said that if we believe in him, we will cross over into life. However, he also clearly says that the dead will be fairly judged on their deeds. It is true that we can never earn salvation by our own efforts. Only Jesus’ death could wipe away our sin and make us righteous in the eyes of God. This is a gift. However, there is also a judgement in regards to whether we have done good or evil. We are justified by faith, but we also have to live well. We should spend our days trying to please God rather than ourselves. ‘You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24).

‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead’ (James 2:26).

Psalm 57:7-11

King David has cheered up today. He has a steadfast heart (v.7). He will sing and make music. He will play music so loudly he will awaken the dawn (v.8).

We need to steadfastly praise God among the nations and sing of him among the peoples. We should try to awaken the dawn with our worship. God’s love for us is so great it reaches to the heavens. His faithfulness reaches to the skies (v.10). King David knew he was dearly loved by God despite the sins he had committed.

We must exalt God’s most holy name above the heavens. His formal name is too holy for us to utter. His glory shines all over the earth and, after we are baptized and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts, within us.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gideon,_the_Biblical_judge,_wrings_the_dewy_fleece._Autotype_Wellcome_V0034411.jpg

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