Saul and the Witch of Endor / Jesus is Flogged and Crucified: May 30th 2021

1 Samuel 26:1-28:25

Saul started chasing David around the countryside again. Saul could not resist the temptation to try to kill David just as we can return to the same habitual sins if we don’t ask the Holy Spirit to lead us and strengthen us.

David and one of his brave soldiers, Abishai, crept into Saul’s camp at night, while everyone was sleeping and took Saul’s spear and the water jug that was near his head. David was protected on this mission ‘because the Lord had put them all into a deep sleep’ (1 Samuel 26:12). David steadfastly refused to kill a king, who had been appointed by God.

David shouted to Saul and his men from a wide distance away and asked Saul why he was pursuing him again. Saul admitted he had sinned again and blessed David.

David wisely escaped to the land of the Philistines as Saul clearly could not be trusted. David and his men would go on raiding parties from there to acquire livestock and other goods. He ruthlessly exterminated all the men and women in the areas he raided for fear they might inform on him. It was a horrendously blood-thirsty time to live. It would have been nice to read that David granted people mercy but the sheer horror of some sections of the Bible demonstrates its truth. All the unpleasant bits that might make us question the morals of some of the main characters have been left in. However, God really didn’t like the Amalekites and, in his wrath, wanted them all dead. God had completely turned away from Saul for sparing just a single Amalekite, the king. Presumably, they were impenitent child-sacrificing monsters worshipping evil demonic entities and had broken so many of God’s laws they could not be redeemed in this Covenant. God needed them to die so that Jesus could come to preach to them in hell after his crucifixion.

The Philistine king, Achish, trusted David because he thought that the Israelites hated him so much that he would be his servant for ever. He even made David his bodyguard when the Philistines were preparing to fight against Israel.

Saul had previously followed God’s law (Exodus 22:18) and ‘expelled all the mediums and spiritists from the land’ (1 Samuel 28:3). However, he was now terrified of the Philistine invasion and none of the approved methods of communicating with God were working (1 Sam. 28:6). God had withdrawn the Holy Spirit from Saul and was allowing him to be plagued by an evil spirit. The primary occupation of an evil spirit is to tempt people and Saul was now tempted to consult a medium. It is a fundamental breach of God’s law to consult practitioners of the occult. If we do this, demons gain a legal right to oppress and even possess us and it may take a person with a very high level of spiritual authority and / or faith to deliver us from them. Dabbling in the occult attracts the big-hitting Biblical demons with personal names and they don’t usually travel alone.

The medium that Saul consulted brought up the recently deceased spirit of the prophet Samuel. Samuel was not happy at being disturbed. He reminded Saul that God had turned away from him and become his enemy. The Lord had torn the kingdom from his hands and given it to David. Samuel prophesied the loss of Israel to the Philistines and Saul’s own death (1 Samuel 28:19).

The witch made Saul eat something before he left. He had fallen full length on the ground in fear and his strength had gone. She was probably worried he might never leave and change his mind about not killing her. She slaughtered her fattened calf and baked bread for him and his men. He was an honoured guest in her house and part of her occult club now that she had conducted a séance for him. She only had to worry about him until the next day according to Samuel’s proclamation of his impending demise.

John 19:1-27

Pilate had Jesus flogged. I only realised the full horror of this experience when I watched ‘The Passion of the Christ’. This event is of particularly significance in Pentecostal belief because it is preached that all of our illnesses became embedded into the bloody grooves that were scourged into our Saviour’s back: Isaiah 53:5. See also, 1 Peter 2:24 which the NIV Bible translates as ‘by his wounds you have been healed‘, which sounds like the wounds of crucifixion, but other Bibles proclaim: ‘by whose stripes you were healed’ (NKJV). We can boldly pray for healing by virtue of Jesus’ taking all our our infirmities and diseases into the stripes / bloody thumps / grooves on his back. Jesus not only conquered death, but by being scourged he also conquered sickness and infirmity.

Pilate desperately tried to set Jesus free but the hostile crowd gave him no room for manoeuvre. He finally gave into their demands. He should have stood up for justice and released Jesus no matter what the consequences. He was a weak judge. These days, many biased people bay for blood to forward their own political agendas. We are so fortunate if we live in a land with a relatively impartial and just legal system, with a right to appeal our sentences. We must pray for our lawyers and judges that they are not tempted to deny justice to the innocent.

Jesus was crucified at the place of the skull, Golgotha. Jesus’ cross, according to legend, was right on top of where Adam’s skeleton (and skull) was buried. The blood and water from Jesus’ side would fall down onto the ground and soak Adam’s dry bones. When Jesus died, he descended down into hell on the most audacious rescue mission ever to rescue his old friends and ancestors, Adam and Eve, and lead them to heaven. Jesus had walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden. They were his friends and he had promised them, when they were expelled from Eden, that he would make things right. Jesus rescued them as both their creator and their descendant.

The sign on Jesus’ cross proclaiming him as ‘King of the Jews’ was written in the three different Biblical languages. Up to September 2020, the full Bible has been translated into 704 languages and the New Testament translated into another 1,551 languages. New ones are being added all the time. My wife’s Godfather has recently finished translating the original Hebrew Bible into Cornish. When we are given the supernatural gift of speaking in tongues, we might start speaking in an earthly or a heavenly language. People can be given the supernatural gift of understanding what we are saying or they might recognise their native language. Some people have English as their supernatural language – despite never having been taught any it.

John 19:25 mentions Jesus’ ‘mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas’ standing near the cross. Saint Jerome (347-420), argued that the so-called brothers of Jesus (James, Simon, Jude and Joses or Joseph) were children of Mary of Clopas making them first cousins of Jesus. I prefer the Eastern church’s tradition that the ‘brothers of Jesus’ were older sons of the widower Joseph from his deceased first wife. Either way, Mary, mother of Jesus, never had any other children as her vocation since birth was to be a temple virgin. Joseph, her elderly husband, was her strong, silent protector.

Even though Jesus was being crucified, he still cared for others. He ensured that his mother, Mary, would always be looked after by John – the disciple whom he loved (John 19:26-27). Mary, as the mother of God, is mother to all of us in the church. She is still our number one intercessor with privileged access to her son and our saviour. Praying to Mary is the same as asking your Pastor / Priest to pray for you but usually far more effective. Jesus remains the one mediator between human and God bridging the gulf between heaven and earth and opening up heaven for the righteous but both the living and the dead can pray for us. No-one is ever dead in God’s eyes, we are all living to him (Luke 20:38). The saints are twiddling their heavenly thumbs waiting for us to call for help. Demons are terrified of Mary as her prayers are so effective. She often intervenes in exorcisms to wrestle people from Satan’s grasp. It is the tragedy of the fractured and splintered church that so many people do not know they can request her powerful prayers.

Psalm 68:21-27

We should loudly praise God in all of our congregations (Psalm 68:26).

Sin and the devil are the enemies of us all. Jesus wiped out punishment for our sins by his death on the cross. He became incarnate to destroy the works of the devil. By her prayers, his mother Mary crushes the heads of the devil and the demons under her heel.

God will always be triumphant.

Image: Salvator Rosa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

David meets Abigail / Jesus is Truth: May 29th 2021

1 Samuel 24:1-25:44

Saul needed a quick break from chasing David around the desert and went into a cave ‘to relieve himself’. David and his men were hiding far back in the same cave! David could easily have killed Saul, his persecutor, but instead crept up and cut off the corner of his robe (1 Sam. 24:4). David felt guilty even for doing that and prevented his men from attacking Saul.

After Saul left the cave, David shouted after him: ‘My Lord the king!‘ and explained to Saul that he had spared his life and was innocent of plotting against him.

Saul wept aloud and admitted he had treated David badly. He prophesied that David would be king and establish the kingdom of Israel forever but made him swear that he would look after Saul’s descendants (1 Sam. 24:21). Saul returned home and David and his small army went to his stronghold.

Samuel the prophet died and was buried at Ramah.

While David and his men had been hiding in the Desert of Moan, he had protected shepherds working for a wealthy man called Nabal. Now, David sent men to Nabal to ask for provisions. Even though he was prosperous, Nabal was miserly and refused. David was furious at this lack of respect and vowed to kill Nabal and all the males in his household.

Fortunately, Nabal’s wife Abigail had more sense. She was horrified that her foolish husband had refused David’s request and she knew this would mean disaster, She loaded an enormous amount of food onto donkeys and rushed off to placate David, who was descending a mountain ravine to kill her household. She called David her master and said she was relieving David of having needless bloodshed and revenge on his conscience. David accepted her generosity and apology. It probably helped that she was intelligent and beautiful just as the beautiful Esther would later save all the Jews. We all need an Abigail in our lives to soothe us and talk us out of taking actions that we might later regret.

Abigail told her husband the next morning how close he had come to death ‘and his heart failed him and he became like a stone’ (1 Sam. 25:37). Ten days later he was dead. David was pleased that the Lord had avenged him. David invited Abigail to be his second wife (he had already married Ahinoam of Jezreel). Saul had given David’s original wife. Michal, to another man. There were complicated marriage set-ups back in the Old Testament – most of which didn’t end well due to envy / jealousy/ duplicity. Christians in the New Testament are strictly monogamous. God hates adultery.

John 18:25-40

Peter denied Jesus for the third time as Jesus had prophesied. Peter is a great example to us as despite all his failures and ill-judged comments he remained faithful to Jesus and full of zeal. He was personally forgiven by Jesus and became the leader of the church, a dynamic Spirit-filled apostle.

Jesus admitted to Pilate that he was a king, but his kingdom was not of this world. He came into the world to testify to the truth. ‘Everyone on the side of truth listens to me’ (John 18:37). Jesus is ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (John 14:6).

When we have the Holy Spirit living inside us, He confirms the truth to us. It can be frustrating to mix with the secular world who often refuse to listen to the truth. I once had to stand up in front of a major trade union conference, being held in a large arena, as the seemingly solo voice against abortion. I wasn’t allowed to use the word: ‘unborn child’ in my speech. The woman chairing the meeting kept shutting off my microphone saying that the term was ‘offensive’. Abortion is the state-approved disposal of unwanted children – that’s the offensive truth. There are many tragic aspects to each and every case and our hearts go out to everyone involved but the basic truth remains. Secular people, living in a morally compromised culture of death, can’t handle the truth.

Pilate offered to release Jesus or the rebel, Barabbas. Barabbas’ full name was ‘Jesus Barabbas’ with Barabbas meaning Son of the Father. So the question to the crowd was: ‘Should I release Jesus, the king the Jews and the true Son of the Father or Jesus Barabbas (the false Son of the Father)’. The crowd chose the false option. Barabbas deserved his sentence due to his crimes but the innocent Jesus died instead of him. We hope that Barabbas believed in Jesus after his crucifixion and was saved. We were all like Barabbas before our baptism and belief in Jesus. We were destined to die because of our sins. Jesus died as our substitute and washed away our sins with his perfect, precious blood.

Psalm 68:15-20

Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains’ (Psalm 68:16). Mountains can’t have feelings we declare. This must be ‘figurative language’. However, God is in all of his creation. Everything that is alive comes from dust / rock fragments including Adam the first man. Jesus said that if the people on Palm Sunday had kept quiet, then the stones would have cried out (Luke 19:40). The natural world – with each element beautifully created by Jesus – may well be a lot more alive than we give it credit for.

God daily bears our burdens. If we have the same depressing, anxious thoughts going through our brain – the cure is praise, worship and prayer. The last time I was mentally laid low was because I had let myself get into a spiritual rut. God let the devil attack me mentally. I became seriously ill. God allowed this trial so I could find myself in a new church – a dynamic Pentecostal church – where the Spirit delivered me into peace.

We might go through trials and tribulations but only so good can come out of it in the end. God refines us like silver and disciplines us because he loves us. He prunes us so that we can bear more fruit.

He is a God who saves. Praise the Lord!

Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Samuel anoints David / The Vine and the Branches: May 25th 2021

1 Samuel 16:1-17:37

The Lord sent Samuel to Jesse of Bethlehem. God had chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be king, instead of Saul.

Samuel wondered which of Jesse’s multiple sons the Lord had chosen but he could not work it out: ‘Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (v.7).

Samuel knew that the Lord had not chosen any of the seven sons he had already seen and asked if there were any more. David, the eighth and youngest, was still out tending the sheep and so he was sent for. God clearly told Samuel that David was the chosen one and he should be anointed.

‘From that day on, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power’ (v.13). In the New Covenant, baptized Christians all have the Holy Spirit permanently living within us. He will give us power if we fully accept Jesus into our lives as our Lord and Saviour and ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle the fire of his gifts within us. We can also be commissioned / receive additional gifts by being anointed / prayed over by holy individuals. The evangelist, Ros Powell, once prayed over me to instantly receive an additional prayer language. She went around a circle of volunteers and briefly touched each one of us on our head as she prayed for us. We all started to pray in a new language as soon as she touched us, a machine-gun-like deliverance language for fighting the enemy. Some people have been given a gift of imparting supernatural gifts onto others.

The Spirit of the Lord was now resting on David but had departed from King Saul and instead: ‘an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him’ (v.14). It must have been very sad for King Saul to lose the Spirit of God. When I first started praying in tongues, I was fascinated about how I was in control of exercising this gift. When I opened my mouth and allowed the Spirit of God to speak, he did; and when I wanted to stop, he stopped. Sometimes during corporate prayer in a church, when many people are speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit will synchronise everyone and people will all gently grind to a halt at the same time. It’s a perfect union when we work together with God to pray what has to be be prayed. I was given the gift of tongues one evening but the very next morning while in the shower, I opened my mouth to practice this new gift and nothing came out. I was bereft and nearly in tears that this beautiful gift of God had temporarily come and then disappeared. A couple of hours later, it was back. I was so happy. I think God was demonstrating how much of a genuine supernatural gift this was and I could do nothing without him. I couldn’t pray in tongues by myself. He was testing me to see how much value I placed on having the Holy Spirit active within my heart. I discussed this with a charismatic priest and he said, in the New Covenant, God never permanently removes his gifts once they have been gifted. I am slightly wary of 1 Corinthians (13:8): ‘Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where they are tongues, they will be stilled’ but reassured by 2 Corinthians (1:21-22): ‘He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come’ and Ephesians 1:13-14: ‘When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory’.

Saul’s servants discerned that if someone played the harp when the evil spirit was present, then Saul would feel better. Evil spirits hate beauty of all kind and so beautiful music can chase them away. They of course, absolutely hate praise and worship songs. When it comes to sounds repelling evil spirits, there is a long tradition of using bells. Church bells are exorcised and blessed with an official rite: ‘Bless, O Lord, this water with a heavenly benediction, and may the power of the Holy Ghost come upon it, so that when this vessel, prepared to call together the children of the Holy Church, has been washed with it, there may be kept far away from wheresoever this bell may sound, the power of those lying in wait, the shadow of spectres, the ravages of whirlwinds, the stroke of lightning, the damage of thunder, the disaster of tempests, and every breath of storm’ https://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2013/08/compendium-of-1961-revision-of_14.html#.YKuJlqhKg2w

One of Saul’s servants had seen David, son of Jesse, play the harp. He also had many other qualities. He was brave, a warrior, spoke well and was good-looking. He became one of Saul’s armour-bearers. Whenever the ‘spirit from God came upon Saul’ (v.23), David would play his harp, Saul would feel better and the evil spirit would leave. It is interesting that it is ‘an evil spirit from the Lord’ that tormented Saul. These days we would say that an evil spirit reports to the devil as part of the hierarchy of evil spirits. However, nothing is allowed to happen unless God permits it. So if someone is oppressed or even possessed by a demon, even though it is under the day-to-day command of the devil, it is only allowed to perform evil because God has permitted it to. God doesn’t want any creature to carry out evil but he will permit it if greater good will come out of it. By allowing this spirit to torment Saul, David now had access to the ruler of Israel.

The Israelites were once again at war with the Philistines. Each day for forty days, the nine-foot-tall giant Goliath, came out from the Philistine ranks and challenged the Israelites to send one man to fight him instead of an all-out battle. Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified by his size and weaponry (17:11).

David had come to the army camp to bring his brothers, who were in the Israelite army, some provisions. David saw Goliath offer his daily challenge and was very interested to know what the reward would be for killing this uncircumcised Philistine, who was defying and disgracing the armies of the loving God.

David offered to risk his life to fight shrugging off the disrespect of his oldest brother and the doubts of Saul. Unkind members of our own families are often our harshest critics. We should just turn away from their hurtful remarks without retaliation while praying that they will be saved in the end. David pointed out he was an experienced lion and bear killer thanks to his normal day job as a shepherd. David could hardly have imagined when he was fighting an enormous bear that God was training him to fight a giant Philistine in the future. God likes to make use of our secular experience and skills, once we start working for him.

David was so confident that the Lord, who had delivered him from both the lion and the bear, would also deliver him from this Philistine that Saul agreed he could fight: ‘Go, and the Lord be with you’ (v.37). Saul must have been impressed with David’s self-confidence and attitude. When Samuel had tried to announce Saul as king, Saul had hidden himself amongst the Israelites baggage. In contrast, David, a young shepherd, had marched into the king’s presence and volunteered to fight a heavily armed giant in front of two armies. He was heroically bold.

Just like David, when an opportunity to work for God comes up that matches our skillsets we should seize the chance with full faith. When we have been anointed by God and have the Holy Spirit living within us, we too can carry out mighty deeds.

John 15:1-16:4

Jesus is the ‘true vine’. The people of Israel are often also described as ‘the vine’ in the Bible. We can only bear fruit if we remain in Jesus. God will cut off any branch that does not bear fruit. If we do bear fruit, he will prune us so we become even more fruitful. Being ‘pruned’ by sickness, unemployment, disappointment etc. is painful but it will give us endurance and endurance will give us character.

Jesus told his disciples that they were ‘already clean’ (v.3) because of the word he had spoken to them. They were now his friends, rather than disciples. Following Jesus, believing in him and listening to his words can make us clean.

If we choose to cut ourselves off from Jesus, God will respect our freewill. However, we will wither and then be picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. When we remain in Jesus, obey his commands and his words remain in us, we can ask whatever we wish and it will be given to us so that God can be glorified.

We show ourselves to be disciples by joyfully bearing much fruit for the glory of God.

Jesus commanded us to love each other as he loved us. ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ (v.13). Jesus laid down his life for us, even while we were still sinners. He has appointed us to ‘go and bear fruit – fruit that will last’. When we bear lasting fruit ‘then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my (Jesus’) name (v.16).

As baptized, believing Christians, we no longer belong to the world. The world will hate us and persecute us as it hated and persecuted Jesus without reason. Persecution doesn’t have to be violent. Many people would like simply to silence Christians and ignore them. Non-believers have no excuse for their lack of faith because Jesus performed miracles to demonstrate he was the Son of God. If they hate Jesus, they also hate God and God will allow them to remain separate from him for eternity. If they should turn to him in this life, he will always be willing to forgive and embrace them but they must do this before it is too late.

The Holy Spirit is our Counsellor. He is the Spirit of truth who goes out from both God, the Father, and Jesus. The Holy Spirit testifies to us about Jesus and we must, in turn, testify to others. The Holy Spirit turns us into a bold soldier in God’s army, fearlessly testifying to the truth.

Saint Paul, before his dramatic road to Damascus conversion, thought that he was offering a service to God by arresting and killing Christians. When Jesus spoke to him, Paul recognised that up until that moment he had never known the Father or Jesus.

Psalm 67:1-7

It is wonderful to be blessed by God, when he is gracious to us and his face shines upon us. The Gospel message has been spread among the nations by wonderful, empowered missionaries, under the guidance and care of the Holy Spirit.

True Christians are glad and sing for joy despite any trials and tribulations they may be facing. When we know God’s ways that lead to salvation we will forever praise him.

When all the peoples of the earth praise God in reverent fear, then we will really see a harvest of blessings.

Image: Paolo Veronese, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/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/

Jesus Washes his Disciples’ Feet: May 22nd 2021

1 Samuel 10:9-12:25

‘As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart’ (v.9). It’s a common theme in the Bible that when someone starts to obey God’s instructions, a miracle suddenly happens. God works with us – he doesn’t just change us as we sit still passively. He loves obedience and faith. We must step out in faith and start to do something, believing that prophecies and the answers to prayers will come to pass.

The Spirit of God came upon Saul in power and he started prophesying. The Holy Spirit came down upon characters in the Old Testament for limited periods so that they could perform a supernatural task. Nowadays, in the New Covenant through our baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit resides inside us permanently. He will allow us to work supernaturally according to our level of faith.

Samuel was going to reveal Saul as the new King in front of all the Israelites but Saul seemed to become shy at the prospect and disappeared. They asked God where he was and we can imagine God laughing as he said: ‘He has hidden himself among the baggage’ (v.22). This was not the most auspicious start to Saul’s kingship. It was difficult for Saul to hide for long because he was a head taller than everybody else. We don’t want to emulate him and ‘hide amongst the baggage’ when we need to rise to the occasion.

Samuel wrote down the ‘regulations of the kingship’ (v.25) and deposited it before the Lord, after the people had shouted ‘Long live the king!’

Everyone was dismissed to their own home but already there were troublemakers slandering Saul. First, the Israelites wanted a king. Immediately after they had one, some started working against him. It is very rare for a group of people to be in total harmony.

Saul went back to working on his fields, even though he had been proclaimed ‘king’, but was offered a chance to rescue the besieged city of Jabesh Gilead. He cut a pair of oxen into pieces and sent them throughout the kingdom. This was to show them what would happen to all the Israelite’s oxen if they didn’t follow him and Samuel. This would have reminded the Israelites of the horrible incident of the the Levite and his concubine in Judges (19:1-29). Saul assembled three hundred and thirty thousand fighting men and they slaughtered their Ammonite enemies.

The Israelites wanted to put to death the people who had doubted Saul’s leadership but Saul would not allow this. He correctly attributed the military victory to God. The people confirmed Saul as king in the presence of the Lord at Gilgal. Saul had started his reign well.

Samuel gave a farewell speech and asked the Israelites to confirm that he had acted fairly all his life. It would be great if everyone we had ever dealt with throughout our lives was able to give us such a glowing reference as the Israelites provided for Samuel.

Samuel warned them and Saul, the king they had requested, to follow the Lord your God. If they did not, his hand would be against them again. Samuel called on God to send thunder and rain to demonstrate what a foolish and evil thing they had done, choosing a human king rather then God. Even though it was not the season for these weather conditions, God responded to Samuel’s faith and ‘the people stood in awe’ (v.18).

Samuel instructed them not to turn away after useless idols (v.21). For the sake of God’s great name, God would not reject the Israelites as long they served him faithfully and remembered the great things he had done for them. If they failed to do this, both they and their new king would ‘be swept away’ (v.25).

How many people in our country serve God faithfully and ruminate on what great things he has done for them? In the UK, we are only just clinging on to being a Christian country. Just a small praying minority is keeping us all from being swept away by God’s wrath. Samuel continually prayed for the Israelites – it was his vocation to do so. We should be thankful for the holy men and women of God in our country who continue to pray for us despite the idol-worship of the majority.

John 12:37-13:17

Despite Jesus’ miracles, many people still wouldn’t believe in him. God had ‘blinded their eyes’ and ‘deadened their hearts’ (v.40). There are still people in our society today with spiritually blind eyes and dead hearts like stone. We must sow the seed of the gospel in them and pray that God will remove the scales from their eyes and give them a new heart of flesh.

Many others believed in Jesus but were ashamed to announce this ‘for fear they would be put out of the synagogue’ (v.42). We must never care more for the opinion of people than we do about the opinion of God. If we are embarrassed to stand up for Jesus, he will not stand up for us.

When we look at Jesus, we see God the Father who sent him. Jesus came into the world as a light, so that we will be taken out of darkness when we believe in him (v.46). Jesus came to save the world! (v.47).

Jesus showed his disciples how much he loved them by washing their feet. He even washed the feet of Judas despite knowing the devil had already prompted Judas to betray him (13:2). Jesus knew his beloved friend and disciple had been lost. Judas would have been provided with the strength to resist all temptations and he could have turned to Jesus for help but he had hardened his heart to betray God.

Jesus would soon die on the cross and wash us all clean of sin through the sacrifice of his perfect blood. When we are baptized we are washed free of all sins. However, soon afterwards we start to sin again – our feet start to get dirty as we are soiled by the secular world. By repenting and renouncing our sins through the sacrament of reconciliation – we become totally clean again. Jesus will always wash our feet in forgiveness.

Peter gave us another lovely example of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. He was offended by the idea of Jesus washing his feet but relented obediently when Jesus told him it was necessary. Peter is a wonderful example for us all. He walked on the water for a little bit but then nearly drowned. He said the wrong thing at the Transfiguration. He denied Jesus three times but Jesus personally forgave him. Peter was transformed into a mighty apostle by the Pentecostal power of the Holy Spirit. Peter holds the keys of the church and became the first Pope. He showed us we can recover from any wrong action, word or thought if we renounce / repent and turn back to God.

We should be kind, chatty, helpful and respectful to everyone we meet. Society has often ranked some jobs as less prestigious than others but the Covid pandemic turned this around. The heroes have been some of our lowest paid workers: the nurses / the supermarket workers / the delivery drivers. Anyone working in even the lowliest job might be in closer harmony with Jesus than us and will be able to teach us eternal truths of God’s kingdom.

Jesus came to serve and not to be served. We should show our love for others by never being proud or arrogant. We should be happy to carry out the most basic loving tasks for our brothers and sisters. He will give us the strength to serve even when we are exhausted. We must follow his awesome example of humility. Jesus is within us and urges us to cheerfully emulate all his humble behaviour.

Psalm 66:1-12

God loves it when we proclaim how awesome his deeds are and we praise his glorious name. He particularly likes it when we recall the awesome miracles he performed while rescuing the Israelites from Egypt. We should always marvel at how he turned the sea into dry land.

All the earth bows down to God because of his great power. We rejoice that he will rule for ever.

Each day, we should be glad that he has preserved our lives. He might give us testing trials – putting us into prison, laying burdens on our backs and sending us through fire and water but this is because he loves us. Through our trials, we become purified and refined like silver (v.10). We will gain faith and endurance. Then we can support, encourage and pray effectively for our brothers and sisters.

Once we are conformed to the likeness of his son, God will bring us to a place of abundance. How awesome are his works on our behalf!

Image: Prof. emeritus Hans Schneider (Geyersberg), CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Jesus Anointed at Bethany: May 20th 2021

1 Samuel 5:1-7:17

The Philistines took the captured ark of the Covenant to the temple of their demonic deity, Dagon, in Ashdod. The next day, their statue of Dagon had fallen on its face. They put it back up, only for it to fall down the next night and smash into pieces. Dagon’s head and hands were broken off – showing the superiority of our one true God.

God brought devastation on the people of Ashdod and affected them with tumours. The Philistines moved the ark to Gath. Usually, people other than Levites are struck down dead for merely going near the ark and so God was allowing the Philistines to move it around, to fall into his trap and demonstrate his power. The city of Gath was thrown into panic and both young and old broke out in tumours (v.9). They then moved the ark to Ekron.

In Ekron, those who didn’t die were afflicted with tumours. All the Philistines wanted to send the ark back to Israel. After seven months with the ark they sent it back to Israel along with five gold tumours and five gold rats. This implies the tumours may have been a type of bubonic plague – spread by the fleas from an invasion of rats. There were five of them because five Philistine cities had been devastated by the presence of the ark.

The Philistines loaded the ark onto a new cart with two cows that had never been yoked. The Philistine diviners said that if the driverless cart went to the Israelite town of Beth Shemesh, this would confirm that the Lord had brought the disasters on them. The cows went straight for Beth Shemesh and the Israelites, harvesting wheat in their fields, were delighted to see the ark coming towards them. However, seventy of he villagers disrespected God by looking inside the ark and were struck down dead. They sent a message to the town of Kiriath Jearim and asked them to take it. The men of Kiriath Jearim finally gave the ark the respect it deserved, setting it up in the house of Abinadab and consecrating Eleazar his son to guard it (7:1).

These days, the ark of the Covenant is said to reside in a chapel in the Ethiopian city of Aksum, guarded by a single monk who, once appointed as the ark’s guardian, is never allowed to leave the chapel’s grounds. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/keepers-of-the-lost-ark-179998820/

The ark stayed at Kiriath Jearim for twenty years and the Israelites ‘mourned and sought after the Lord’ (7:2).

Samuel, the prophet, told them to rid themselves of all their demonic idols and commit themselves solely to the Lord. His prophesied with faith that the Lord would then deliver them from the Philistines. All of Israel assembled at Mizpah.

They ‘poured water before the Lord’, fasted and confessed they had sinned. Samuel was their leader (v.6). The Philistines came to attack them but Samuel told them not to stop praying to God while he offered a suckling lamb as a burnt sacrifice to God. As the Philistines drew near, the Lord threw them into panic with loud thunder and the Israelites were able to slaughter them (v.11). Samuel set up a stone as a memorial.

We have in this story familiar elements of communing with God. They used water as a symbol of washing away sin / rebirth. Samuel sacrificed a lamb – similar to the Passover lambs that had saved the Israelites in Egypt and prefigured Jesus, the holy lamb of God. Samuel set up a memorial stone and an altar in Ramah – the Israelites had set up stones and altars during their Exodus years to remember and worship the saving deeds of God.

Samuel was judge over Israel all the days of their life and during this time, the Israelites recaptured their towns from the Philistines.

John 11:45-12:11

‘Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him’ (v.45). If Mary (of Bethany) was indeed Mary Magdalene and also the sinful woman mentioned in Luke – these men may well have been ‘interesting’ characters. Converting a sinner, who has a lot of intimate connections to other sinners, can reap a great harvest.

The high priest, Caiaphas, prophesied that Jesus would die as one man to save the entire Jewish nation. So even someone plotting evil can be a mouthpiece for God. Thanks to the mercy of God, sacraments from priests who may be themselves living in grave sin are still valid. From that day, the chief priests and the Pharisees plotted to arrest and kill Jesus. They did not want to lose their power and control and be further subdued by the Romans. If Jesus went around raising everybody from the dead, people would have no choice but to believe in him. It is amazing that religious leaders can feel so envious and threatened by witnessing the truth and power of God. God can use evil people to bring about a greater good in the end. By allowing the Sanhedrin to arrest and kill Jesus, God would allow us into heaven because of the sacrifice of his precious son.

Jesus visited Bethany again – where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived. Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair (12:3), just as she may have done in the house of Simon the Pharisee in Luke (7:37-38). At that earlier encounter, she had been weeping because of her many sins. This time, she anointed Jesus in anticipation of his burial. She would later accompany the other women to Jesus’ tomb expecting to anoint his dead body – only to experience the joy of his resurrection.

Judas was annoyed at this use of expensive perfume. He was a thief, like his father the devil. If they had sold the perfume, he would have helped himself to some of the proceeds. Jesus predicted that we would always have the poor among us, ‘but you will not always have me’ (v.8). We do still have the poor among us, principally because of greed and exploitation. There is no shortage of food and other resources, we just need to stop selfishly hoarding and share equitably. Jesus gave us permission to hold the occasional guilt-free party. Life is for joyous living as well as helping the needy.

The dramatic testimony of Lazarus, having been raised from the dead, was converting many people to Jesus and so, the chief priests made plans to kill him too. There are many legends about what might have subsequently happened to Lazarus. As Lazarus had died once and already seen life after death, he wouldn’t have been frightened by his second death. He would have known Jesus, his friend and saviour, would be there to rescue him from death once again and this time give him eternal life. One legend is that Lazarus, Martha and Mary were put into a leaking boat by the Jews at Jaffa but still miraculously landed safely in Cyprus. There Lazarus died peacefully after serving as bishop for 30 years. Later, his relics were transferred to Constantinople. https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/lazarus

Proverbs 12:18-27

The Lord delights in the truthful (v.22). God doesn’t like lying, foolishness or laziness.

He wants us to bring healing with our words, to be prudent, diligent, righteous and joyfully promote peace.

We can be weighed down with anxiety but kind support from others can cheer us up. Jesus will take away our burdens. One of my favourite passages is Matthew (11:28-30): ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.

A yoke is a wooden beam that joins two oxen side by side when working in a field. Jesus is saying he will walk step by step with us throughout our life, teaching us, connected to us and doing the heavy lifting to give us rest.

Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

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