Ruth Meets Boaz / Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind: May 16th 2021

Ruth 1:1-2:23

Naomi was left with her two Moabite daughters-in-law after her husband and two sons died. Her family had moved to Moab from Bethlehem because of a famine, which was now over.

Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to go back to their parents’ homes but one of them, Ruth, was so devoted to her that she refused to go. She wanted to accompany Naomi for ever: ‘Your people will be my people and your God my God’ (v.16). Naomi was prepared to give up her beloved Ruth for her to find happiness but Ruth was happy to turn her back on her own people to care for her foreign mother-in-law.

The two women returned to Naomi’s hometown, Bethlehem.

Naomi asked to be called ‘Mara’ meaning ‘Bitter’ because the ‘Almighty has made my life very bitter’ (v.20). We should not let ourselves become bitter. God will always rescue us from our troubles as long as we stay faithful to him. God was already orchestrating a way to rescue Naomi and Ruth and restore their good fortunes.

Ruth went to find leftover grain and was allowed to gather in the fields of Boaz – who was from the same clan as Naomi’s deceased husband.

Because Ruth had a great reputation and had been kind to her mother-in-law, she was blessed by the kindly Boaz: ‘May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge’ (v.12).

Boaz was not just kind to the living, he was also kind to the dead (v.20). The dead appreciate our kindly actions on the earth as they watch our daily work in the cloud of witnesses. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive (Luke 20:38).

Boaz fed and protected Ruth and instructed his harvesters to give her extra stalks of wheat. By working diligently, throughout the barley and wheat harvest, she was able to feed her mother-in-law.

It’s wonderful to read such a positive story after the grim events in the book of Judges.

Naomi and Ruth are experiencing a type of rebirth due to a saviour in Bethlehem.

We sow what we reap: kindness, loyalty and generous provision.

John 9:1-34

Today we can add more people to the list of people that never sinned. In previous days we mentioned how Jesus never sinned; how Mary, Mother of God, never sinned and how the righteous – that Jesus did not come to save – never sinned and here we meet some of them: ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned’ said Jesus, (speaking of a man blind from birth), ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life’. Being born blind was not a punishment for past misdemeanours, it was a passport to receiving a healing blessing from Jesus. People would forever read his touching testimony: ‘I was blind but now I see!’ (v.25).

I used to be blind to how sinful I was. I thought I was more or less ok. My eyes were opened in the Sistine Chapel one day and I realised how awkward my final judgement would be unless I changed direction and headed towards the welcoming arms of Jesus. I will never forget the dramatic moment of conversion when I made a screeching handbrake turn in my spiritual life.

Many people misquote Romans 3:23 and just take the middle part of the verse out of context: ‘There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’.  Paul wasn’t writing that every single person has sinned, he was saying there is no race or nation that is totally free from sin. Some Jews and some Gentiles will have committed sins but not all of them. To say the whole human race are sinners is too gloomy. We do all inherit ‘original sin’ at birth from our ancestor Adam but this is wiped away, along with any personal sins, by the exorcism of baptism.

There are some important principles on display today. The poor blind man that Jesus was about to cure was blind from birth. Many people would say this was cruel but God works for the good of all those that love him. If he hadn’t been blind, he wouldn’t have received an amazing miracle from Jesus and we wouldn’t still be reading about him more than two thousand years later. Both he and his parents would have received salvation by their belief in Jesus. The other important principle is that God works through people. If the man hadn’t been exactly in the right place at the right time, he wouldn’t have met Jesus to receive this miracles. The Holy Spirit may have whispered to the blind man to take the right directions at exactly the right times to ‘bump into’ Jesus. He had to be obedient to the promptings of the Spirit. However, even if he had missed Jesus, God will always find a way to accomplish his work. The man might have been healed later by Peter or Paul. There are always more chances while we are still alive to experience God’s healing grace. If you are sick today, God will most likely heal you through using an intermediate person. Go and ask a charismatic priest or pastor to pray for you so that the Holy Spirit can act through them. If you do get healed spontaneously in your bedroom, it will most likely have happened because someone else was praying for you.

Jesus reiterated that he was ‘the light of the world’ (v.5) just before he gave the blind man sight. Jesus likes us to contribute to our healing. He likes us to get involved and work with him. The blind man had to step out in faith and walk to the pool of Siloam and wash. When he had done this awkward task, which was probably quite difficult for a blind person, he went home seeing (v.7). This is similar to the leper, Naaman, having to wash himself seven times in the river Jordan to be healed from leprosy (2 Kings 5:14).

The Holy Spirit must have told Jesus that the man would be cured if Jesus made mud with his saliva and put it on the man’s eyes. Jesus obeyed these detailed instructions faithfully. Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic has meant that healing through saliva is now generally frowned upon.

Of course, it was a Sabbath again and the Pharisees were more concerned about Jesus working on the holy day rather than the outcome of this outstanding miracle. The man who had been healed knew that Jesus was a prophet (v.17). He knew that he had been touched by the supernatural. When people attend a church where healings, deliverances and prophesies take place, they can witness the truth of the gospel and believe.

The Pharisees hurled insults at the man born blind and declared they were disciples of Moses. They knew that God had spoke to Moses but they didn’t even know where this fellow (Jesus) came from (v.29). Hilariously, it was Jesus who had frequently met with Moses in the desert in the Tent of Meeting. Jesus was the God that Moses had talked to face to face like a friend.

The healed man carried out a brilliant defence of Jesus. He has instantly become a bold disciple of Jesus. He even subjected the Pharisees to withering sarcasm when they cannot get over their prejudice against Jesus despite the overwhelming evidence of his healing miracles: ‘Now that is remarkable!’ He pointed out that as God listened to Jesus, Jesus must be a ‘godly man who does his will’ (v.32). Jesus would not be able to do these miracles if he wasn’t from God.

This man, who had been a disabled beggar, dismantled the logic of anyone choosing to be an atheist. Jesus was a historical figure – as documented by independent historians. Jesus performed outstanding miracles for the glory of God – witnessed by thousands of independent onlookers. God listens to the godly man who does his will. If Jesus was not from God, he could have done nothing. Therefore, it is a historical fact that Jesus was the Son of God who performed amazing signs and miracles. He died and was resurrected to justify and make us righteous in the sight of God.

The amazing fact is that through our baptism, belief in Jesus and the gifts of the Holy Spirit we can perform the same miracles that Jesus did and aspire to even greater ones. It just takes faith and we can build on small successes, along with prayer and fasting to achieve great things for the glory of God.

We are all spiritually blind until our eyes are opened to the wonder of the gospel and the everyday presence of the Holy Trinity in our lives.

The healed man was thrown out by the spiritually blind Pharisees for his dynamic witness: ‘how dare you lecture us!’ (v.34). Jesus had not only physically let light into his eyes, he had given him spiritual light. This man now knew the truth, that Jesus was the Saviour of the world. He would have gone home laughing, rejoicing in his new vision, seeing God’s glorious creation for the first time. Praise the Lord!

Proverbs 12:8-17

Back in Solomon’s time, men were praised according to their wisdom. ‘Men with warped minds‘ were despised (v.8). These days, men (and women) with warped minds can make a very good living as stand-up comedians.

It isn’t wise to be pretentious. Better to be humble and have some money in the bank than to be ostentatious and secretly poor.

Righteous people care for their animals and are not cruel. I have just cooked an entire roast chicken for my poorly miniature dachshund who has had a major neck operation so hopefully she will testify in my favour.

We do have to make our living through practical schemes and not chase unworkable fantasies. Evil men reveal their characters through their sinful talk (v.13). Righteous people escape trouble as long as no-one believes the lies of false witnesses.

We should aspire to be wise, patient and prudent; slow to anger, grateful for advice and instantly forgive when people insult us.

Image: Václav Mánes, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

War against the Benjamites / Jesus’ Truth will set us Free: May 15th 2021

Judges 20:1-21:25

The Israelites were shocked by the ghastly behaviour of the inhabitants of Gibeah. They assembled at Mizpah and told the tribe of Benjamin that they should hand over their wicked compatriots. The Benjamites refused and mobilised their troops for battle. They mustered an impressive army of twenty-six thousand men but this would be up against the rest of the Israelites: four hundred thousand fighting men.

The Israelites asked God who should attack first and he told them to send the tribe of Judah. The Benjamites killed twenty-two thousand of them in the first day. After confirming with God that they should attack again they lost another eighteen thousand soldiers. So far, the campaign to rid the evil from Israel was a complete disaster but God had never promised them it would be easy or that he approved of the war.

The Israelites wept in front of the Lord, fasted and made offerings. Then God promised to give the Benjamites into their hands (v.28). This time, with the help of an ambush the other Israelites slaughtered the Benjamites, killed twenty-five thousand of them, putting all their towns to the sword (including the animals_ and setting everything on fire. Only six hundred Benjamites escaped into the desert. Let us hope that the old man who had been hospitable in Gibeah escaped the carnage (19:16-24).

The other Israelites vowed that not one of them would give a daughter in marriage to a Benjamite (21:1). However, they were very sad and wept to the Lord in grief that one of the original twelve tribes of Israel had nearly been wiped out.

The chaos continued because the Israelites had vowed that whoever failed to assemble before the Lord at Mizpah should be put to death. No representatives had turned up from Jabesh Gilead. The Israelites sent twelve thousand men to kill all the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead apart from four hundred female virgins. They then made an offer of peace to the few remaining Benjamites and gave them the four hundred virgins.

However, the Benjamites still did not have enough wives. The Israelites were determined not to entirely lose the tribe of Benjamin and wanted to allow them to build up their numbers again. So the Benjamites were allowed to hide in the vineyards around Shiloh during the annual festival of the Lord and rush out to kidnap a wife – taking her back to the land of Benjamin.

‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit’ (v.25).

You can say that again!

What are we to make of this? When society does not have a single, righteous leader with a single set of unifying laws, wickedness and civil war can multiply. The majority of the Israelites still respected the official tabernacle and had attempted to come together to rid themselves of terrible evil but they had suffered heavy casualties. It would have been better to repent and renounce their sins, fast and offer sacrifices to God before they waged war as he may have given them victory straight away. Jesus’ prayers were always successful as he was in tune with God at all times through continual prayer and regular fasting. He didn’t have to get into God’s good books to have his prayers answered unlike his disciples who were unable to cast out a demon because they had failed to pray and fast enough (Mark 9:29).

It would have been far easier for the Benjamites to admit that their compatriots were evil and surrender them for trial. We should be impartial when it comes to justice and not try to violently defend evil. The rest of the Israelites did show love and regret for nearly wiping out the tribe of Benjamin. They did want to preserve their heritage. However, they came up with a bizarre way of providing wives for the Benjamites – allowing them to kidnap their women. This is legalistic nonsense. It would have been far more traumatic for the women to have been seized in this way rather than be asked if they wanted to volunteer. Thank God that we still have a government setting national laws. It has been intensely confusing in Great Britain having devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland making their own rules during Covid. However, sometimes this does give your own area a small advantage. Let’s hope that our government doesn’t break down into even smaller units so that ‘everyone will do as they see fit’.

We must pray for our leaders that they are themselves led by God. When leaders reject God and ‘do as they see fit’ countries and empires will be lost. We must pray for President Biden, who declares himself to be a Christian, that he will follow the will of God.

John 8:31-59

The truth we learn from Jesus will set us free (v.31).

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin’ (v.34). We need to break away from this slavery to take up our place as adopted children of God and be ‘free indeed’. God arranged for me to be free from the slavery of paid employment so I can work for him. I was recently tempted to start a new well-paid secular job but what would I be doing it for? To squeeze even more money into my bank accounts? I shouldn’t give up freedom for the love of money. I was emotionally traumatized at the thought of secular employment, because I would be returning to slavery. Proverbs 26: 11 kept popping into my mind: ‘As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly’. I would be a slave to the opinions of my new boss and my co-workers. Of course, a secular job at the right times in our lives can be a great blessing from God and he will engineer us into work positions that we need when we need them. I couldn’t have raised a family without decades of secular employment. However, eventually we might be called to do something else. I had this nagging feeling that I should leave and prayed a bold prayer to God ‘Lord, if I should be doing something else please make it abundantly clear as I am slow to respond to hints. I need you to make it plain’. He made it abundantly clear I should change my vocation. We aren’t permitted to boldly proclaim Christian values in most secular work places. I felt a deep sense of peace when I rejected the idea of returning to secular slavery and chose continued freedom in Christ.

The Holy Spirit will help us to be free indeed from the sin that attracts us and clings to us like a sliver of cellophane stuck to our hand. I was stuck in repetitive addictive sin despite being ‘born again’ until I handed over control to the Holy Spirit by praying for up to an hour a day ‘in the Spirit’. The power of the Holy Spirit can set us free after we repent, renounce and believe in Jesus.

Jesus told the crowd that they were nothing like Abraham. Jesus knew exactly what Abraham was like. It had been Jesus, along with two angels, who had visited Abraham in his camp and predicted that he would be blessed with a miraculous child (Genesis 18).

Jesus proved that the assembled crowd were neither children of Abraham nor of God. Their father was the devil, ‘the father of lies’ (v.44). As opposed to the people who belong to God who hear what God says (v.47).

The devil was a murderer from the beginning (v.44). People who support murderous abortion work for him and twist the truth that a foetus is somehow different to an unborn baby. They cannot hold to the truth, for there is no truth in them. They lie that abortion is a liberating ‘right for women’ when it kills over twenty million women a year before they are born.

Abraham saw Jesus back in the time of the patriarchs and rejoiced because Jesus brought truthful, good news to him. Jesus existed from the dawn of all time. He created the world and so existed long before Abraham: ‘He was with God in the beginning’ (John 1:2). Jesus said he was God by claiming for himself the most holy name of God: ‘I am’ (v.58).

This was so outrageous to the crowd that they wanted to stone him but it wasn’t yet time for Jesus to die. His guardian angel was Saint Michael, leader of the loyal angel armies, and so it was a simple matter to hide and slip away under the shelter of his wings.

Psalm 61:1-8

King David’s heart was growing faint and he felt a long way from God. He continued to faithfully call to him. He longed to shelter under his wings and dwell in his presence for ever (v.4).

God had always been his refuge and ‘a strong tower against the foe’ (v.3).

David called for God’s love and faithfulness to protect him. He would sing praise to his most holy name and fulfil his vows.

Image: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/chain-broken-broken-chain-link-1623322/

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

Death of Samson / The Woman caught in Adultery: May 13th 2021

Judges 16:1-17:13

Samson slept with a prostitute while the people of Gaza lay in wait to kill him. He successfully escaped, ripping off the doors of the city gates. God was still giving him phenomenal strength despite his immoral pastimes. Once the Holy Spirit has given us a gift, he doesn’t remove it due to a brief lapse in our personal morality.

Samson later fell in love with a Philistine woman, Delilah. Right from the start of their relationship she was hired by the rulers of the Philistines to try to find Samson’s weakness so he could be subdued. She was a forerunner of Judas; betraying the one who loved her for silver.

Samson must have known she was a snake in the grass because he kept winding her up. First of all he told her that if he was tied up with seven fresh thongs (ropes not pants), he would become weak. She immediately tied him up with seven fresh ropes / thongs – which is pretty suspicious behaviour. Samson snapped the thongs as easily as a piece of string snaps close to a flame. Delilah accused Samson of lying to her and making her look like a fool. He should have kicked her out at this stage for betraying him and trying to get him killed.

She twice more asked how Samson could be subdued and he lied again saying if he was bound with new ropes or had his hair braided into fabric on a loom he would become weak. He again found that Delilah did both of these things to him having hidden hostile men hidden in the room. It must have been a massive room with copious hiding places! By now, he should have left her and be hurrying away in the opposite direction. Unbelievably, Samson relents to her constant nagging and actually tells this evil woman his secret. As he has been set apart to God from birth as a Nazirite, his hair has never been cut. His hair is a visible, outward sign of his special relationship with God. Of course, Delilah coaxed him to fall asleep in her lap and arranged for all his hair to be cut off. The Lord left him (v.20).

Samson had been exceedingly careless with his relationship with God. He knew that his hair was a key symbol to show he was in obedient union with God. From Delilah’s previous behaviour, he would have known what was going to happen to him. If we are determined to turn our back on God, either deliberately or carelessly, he will let us go. However, he will always be on the look out for us, still loving us and longing for us to return to him.

The Philistines seized Samson, gouged his eyes out, bound him with bronze shackles and put him to work in their prison.

The Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to their deity. However, Samson’s hair had began to grow back while he was imprisoned. He was happy to be brought out to entertain the Philistine crowd as it gave him a chance to get his hands on the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Samson prayed that God should remember him and strengthen him just once more (v.28). Samson acknowledged that God was the source of his power. ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ (v.30) he shouted as he pushed down the temple on all the rulers and the people in it. On the roof alone, there had been three thousand men and women. ‘Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived’ (v.30).

Samson had led the Israelites for twenty years and he wouldn’t be the first leader brought down by lust for a woman. God’s strength had returned to him when he consecrated himself to the Lord again, by allowing his hair grow back and praying to God with faith. This story fits in with my Pastor’s philosophy that God always wants to work through people. He no longer wants to do things by himself. God could have caused the temple to collapse by sending a hurricane or an earthquake but instead, he went to all the trouble of having Samson imprisoned so that he, as God’s representative on earth, could carry out a legendary deed. An earthquake would have been forgotten after a few hundred years but the story of Samson is preserved for ever. So we shouldn’t just sit around waiting for God to sort things out. He sorts things out through people. We need to pray to determine the will of God and work on making it happen.

Micah’s idols

Micah, a man from Ephraim, had stolen eleven hundred shekels of silver from his mother. He returned it to her and she gave some to a silversmith, who made them into an image and an idol. They were put in Micah’s house, in his shrine.

He also made a priestly garment, an ephod, and installed one of his sons as a priest.

‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit’ (17:6). We don’t have a single unifying king these days. We gave a democracy with a huge rift down the centre. Half the population don’t respect the government because they didn’t vote for them. Not many people respect religion and are happy to go their own way picking and choosing non-Christian spiritual pastimes such as yoga or mindfulness. In the 21st century, hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are all doing as they see fit – but not as God would want them to live.

Micah upgraded his household priest by installing a passing Levite as his ‘father and priest’ (v.10). At least, a Levite was from the correct tribe of Jerusalem for priestly duties. However, priests had to be commissioned by authority of the official High Priest. People couldn’t just employ a spare Levite and give them a wage. However, this is what people do now. With a degree from a Bible college, people set themselves up as preachers and allow their followers to give them a wage rather than being under the authority of a traditional denomination. On the positive side, Micah obviously was trying to worship God. However, he was starting his own brand of religion with an ephod, an image, idols and a paid priest. Micah’s personal in-house priest was a status-symbol like having a brand new Tesla on the drive. We are meant to worship as a community with an officially ordained minister, not start up a new sect in our own houses.

John 7:45-8:11

The temple guards did not arrest Jesus because, ‘No-one ever spoke the way this man does’ (v.46). Ordinary people were finding his new brand of teaching fascinating. It was just the jealous, religious professionals with hardened hearts and closed ears that wanted him gone. They also held his Galilean origins against him, seemingly unaware of his birth in Bethlehem – in accordance with prophecy.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees asked Jesus to condone stoning a woman to death for adultery. There was not sign of her male partner, who should also have been on trial, and there needed to be at least two witnesses to convict her. Jesus’ classic retort was: ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’ (v.7). All her accusers walked away starting with the oldest, who had presumably accumulated the greatest burden of sin. Of course, Jesus could have thrown a stone as he was without sin but he did not condemn her. Mary, his mother, was also without sin but she was not around. Many people misinterpret Romans 3:23: ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. Jesus never sinned and so the word ‘all’ obviously does not mean what people think it means. There are obviously exceptions. ‘All’ means ‘all’ of a particular people group. So the majority of the Jews and the majority of the Gentiles would have sinned but not every single one of them. Think of new babies or, indeed, the righteous that Jesus did not come to call (Luke 5:32). On the other hand, even new born babies inherit a portion of ‘original sin’ from their ancestor, Adam, and so need to be baptized to be made right with God.

A debate has raged through the centuries as to what Jesus wrote in the sand. As Jesus had recently been talking about ‘streams of living water’ (John 7:38), I think that Jeremiah (17:13) must be relevant: ‘Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water’. Possibly, Jesus first wrote down the name of the accused woman, through a supernatural gift of knowledge from the Holy Spirit. Then he wrote down the names of all the others present in the same list of sinners. They were all guilty of turning away from him.

Jesus’ new definition of adultery (Matt. 5:27): ‘I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ meant that some of the teachers of the law may have been committing adultery with this women at that very moment in time in their hypocritical hearts.

When everyone left without throwing a stone at the woman, Jesus instructed her to ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’ (8:11). It appears that adultery was not her only sin. Her whole life was a life of sin. She was caught up in daily disobedience and rebellion. It would be fascinating to know if she managed to stop sinning for the rest of her life after Jesus saved her. Or was it just for the rest of the day and she was back to her usual antics the very next day. I found it virtually impossible to break out of a cycle of repetitive sin until I handed more control of my life to the Holy Spirit. By praying in tongues for up to an hour a day, He made my desire to choose sin melt away. I couldn’t do this by my own efforts. Jesus will do the heavy lifting for us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we just have to hand over control to him. He wants to heal us and liberate us with loving compassion, not condemn us.

Many Christians feel they are born again but carry on living in grave sin. After we have come to Jesus, we have to address the sinful areas in our life, unravelling them and dealing with the root. The Holy Spirit will tell us where they are and strengthen us as he gradually sanctifies our lives. When we look back, we can give glory to God for the journey he has carried us on.

Psalm 60:1-4

King David calls on God to restore us, after God was angry and rejected us.

God was angry with the whole of humanity due to our sins before Jesus made us justified and righteous in the eyes of God through his death on the cross.

We are currently living in desperate times. The world has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic and is quaking. Only Jesus can mend the fractured world. Nations that have not yet turned to him and are staggering with their health services at breaking point need to come to the Father through his son. He will raise a banner for those who fear him, showing us where he may be found. It will deflect and protect us against the weapons of the enemy.

Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Christ_and_the_Woman_Taken_in_Adultery_%28one_of_a_set_of_12_scenes_from_The_Life_of_Christ%29_MET_DP278246.jpg

Deborah and Jael / Jesus Heals: May 6th 2021

Judges 4:1-5:31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 4:43-5:15

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

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

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

Pool of Bethesda

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

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

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

Psalm 57:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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