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

2 Samuel 18:19-19:43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 7:44-8:3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 73:1-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

God will eternally be our refuge and our strength.

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

Absalom’s death / Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin: June 11th 2021

2 Samuel 16:15-18:18

David had sent his friend, Hushai, to give poor advice to Absalom (David’s treacherous son who was intent on taking over the country). Absalom suspected Hushai’s motives as he knew he was a good friend of David’s (2 Sam.16:17).

Absalom first of all asked the renowned wise man Ahithophel how to progress his coup. Ahithophel told him to publicly lie with all of David’s ten concubines. This would declare to the whole of Israel that he had formerly set himself against his father. Absalom did this because Ahithophel had a great reputation for giving wise advice (2 Sam.16:23).

Ahithophel then wisely recommended that Absalom should assassinate his father David and bring all the other Israelites back to him. Absalom would have gained the throne if he had done this but God had made him resistant to good advice.

This gave Hushai the chance to propose an alternative strategy. Hushai recommended gathering an enormous army and killing not only David but also all his supporters. He managed to get Absalom to sign up to this plan (2 Sam.17:14). Hushai then sent David a secret message telling him to cross the river Jordan to get away from Absalom’s army.

Aphithophel was so upset that his wise advice had been ignored that he went and hanged himself (2 Sam.17:23). It would have been better for him to stay loyal to King David and to have left Jerusalem with him.

David had travelled to Mahanaim and was treated hospitably by people in the region. They brought him and his army bedding and food.

David mustered his men for battle and wanted to fight with them but they would not allow it. He was too valuable. He stood at the gate of the city in support but begged his soldiers to be gentle with his disloyal son (2 Sam.18:5). It is incredible that David should still want to protect someone who had disrespected his reign and was leading a massive army to kill him.

In the ensuing battle, David’s army killed twenty thousand Israelite soldiers. They probably had far more motivation in that they were fighting for their lives whereas the Israelites were just trying to swap one satisfactory king with another. There is the intriguing statement: ‘the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword’ (2 Sam.18:8), which implies that God was fighting for David in unusual ways. Perhaps the enemy troops ran into the forest in panic and fell into concealed ravines / large pits. They might have been attacked by wild animals or God may even have mobilised the trees to entangle the troops and drop branches on them. I suspect this verse was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Fangorn forest in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Absalom himself fell victim to one of the trees in the forest. His head got caught in the branches of a large oak as he was trying to ride under it and he was left swinging there. One of David’s soldiers saw his predicament but did nothing because of David’s command to be gentle with him. Joab, David’s army commander, thought this was nonsense and he and his men went and executed Absalom as if he were a piñata. Joab buried him in a large pit in the forest.

Absalom had earlier vainly set up a stone pillar as a monument to himself in the King’s Valley (see photo). It is difficult what to make of Absalom’s life. He had stood up for justice by avenging the rape of his sister Tamar but he had been extremely disrespectful and disloyal to his father, King David – possibly out of frustration that David hadn’t disciplined his rapist son, Amnon. David had welcomed Absalom back from exile and still wanted to protect him even after he had slept with his women and assembled a massive army to hunt him down. Absalom was a victim of his own good looks, charisma and vanity, lusting for power and thinking that he could do better than his father, who was loved by God. Absalom would have done better to emulate David’s patience, tolerance, love and humility.

Acts 7:20-43

Stephen continued to give the seventy one members of the Sanhedrin a potted history of the Jewish nation. At first glance, this would appear to be like me narrating the Nativity story to the Pope. I am sure they intimately knew the Old Testament storylines already but they had missed the vital point. All the Jewish Old Testament scriptures pointed to Jesus. Even today, many Jews aren’t taught the whole of Isaiah as it so obviously prophesies all about the life of Jesus (Isaiah 53:4-5).

However, Stephen would skilfully be building his later statements on the firm foundations of the Old Testament. Our faith in Jesus Christ is rooted upon the prophesies of the Old Testament. Jesus is referred to throughout the Old Testament and he often personally appeared and interacted with key characters, this is known as a Christophany,

Stephen reminded the Jewish elders that Moses had told the Israelites: ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people’ (Acts 7:37). This ‘prophet’ was Jesus, whom they had just killed. In fact, the Jews had killed virtually all of God’s messengers that had been sent to them. Jesus’ life had multiple similarities to that of Moses but Jesus was far greater. Moses delivered his people from oppression and slavery and led them to freedom. Jesus rescued the whole world from the oppression of the devil and the slavery of sin and death.

Stephen repeatedly demonstrated that God throughout history did not just dwell in the Jewish temple. God met people wherever they travelled from the burning bush in the desert, in Gentile territory, to the wonders he performed in Egypt. The Jewish religious elite did not accept that God had become incarnate in the form of Jesus and had performed miracles outside the temple. Many Christians these days tick off their religious obligations by monotonously attending a fixed-format service in a certain church each Sunday as if Jesus is confined to the four walls of that building. However, we carry God inside each one of us. He is fully portable. He is God of the whole world, there is nowhere we can hide from him, and we should be taking him with us each day to meet the needs of suffering people throughout the secular world.

Stephen would became the first Christian martyr and his evangelistic speech is a powerful example for all of us to follow. Stephen’s name mean ‘victor’s crown’ and, even though he was stoned to death, he delivered a timeless ‘victory speech’.

This event would be the official Jewish rejection of the renewed offer of the kingdom, paving the way for salvation to be eventually offered to all the Gentiles.

It would have intimidated an average person to give witness in front of 71 members of the Sanhedrin but Stephen was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was meant to be defending himself but he went on the attack and prosecuted the Jewish elders. Stephen was innocent, yet he would be punished. The Sanhedrin were guilty yet would escape punishment until God meted out his eternal justice.

Religious leaders have a history of rejecting God’s truth and his messengers. The Israelites had rejected God in the desert and so God turned away from them (Acts 7:42). The Jewish leaders were now rejecting God again with their beloved temple now becoming a worthless idol following the death of Christ.

Psalm 71:1-20

We should pray for our rulers to be people of justice and righteousness.

Queen Elizabeth II has had a spectacularly long reign because we all pray for her when we sing the National Anthem: ‘God save our gracious Queen. Long live our noble Queen’. Prayers really do work.

Our politicians should deliver the needy who cry out and the afflicted who have no-one to help, particularly our most vulnerable citizens, unborn children (Psalm 72:12). They should take pity on the weak and the needy, to save them from death.

We lose over 200,000 unborn children a year in the UK because we no not rescue them from oppression and violence. Their blood is precious in God’s sights (Psalm 72:14).

God alone does marvellous needs and we should praise his glorious name for ever.

Jesus created the world and he will be with us until the end of time. He will endure for ever and his words will feed us and water us so that we flourish (Psalm 72:5-7).

Image: Absalom’s monument: Alien is, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Amnon and Tamar / Ananias and Sapphira: June 8th 2021

2 Samuel 13:1-39

Amnon, the eldest son of King David, fell in love with one of his half-sisters: Tamar. They both had different mothers.

Amnon desired Tamar even though sexual relations between half-siblings was strictly banned under Jewish law (Lev.18:9).

Following the advice of his cunning uncle / friend, Jonadab, Amnon pretended to be sick and asked King David if Tamar could make him some food and feed it to him. David instructed her to do this. Tamar made Amnon bread but he did not eat it, he forcibly raped her. Once this had happened, Amnon’s love changed to hate and he kicked Tamar out. She put ashes on her head and tore her ornamental robe (2 Sam.13:19). She went to live with her brother Absalom as ‘a desolate woman’. King David was furious but did not discipline Amnon. Absalom said nothing but hated Amnon because of what he had done to his sister. Yesterday, we read about David’s adulterous affair that resulted in murder. Sexual sin and violence were running in the family.

King David should have ensured that justice was served. Rulers cannot afford to let serious crimes go unpunished.

Two years later, Absalom invited King David and his officials to a party. David blessed him and sent all of his sons instead. Absalom ordered his men to kill the rapist, Amnon. All of the other king’s sons fled. David received a false news report that all of his sons had been murdered by Absalom, not just Amnon. David did not take this news well (2 Sam.13:31).

Absalom fled and stayed in Geshur for three years. King David mourned for Amnon everyday but still missed Absalom (2 Sam.13:37). If David had acted justly at the time of Amnon’s crime he might not have lost two sons. Rulers cannot neglect discipline even when the guilty person is their own child.

God had disciplined David for his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. David had not disciplined his own son for a different sexual crime and was now suffering for his weak leadership.

Acts 4:23-5:11

Peter and John went back to their fellow disciples and reported how they had been treated by the chief priests and elders. The disciples raised their voices in prayer, praising God for his creation. Many people get their minds tangled up by the theory of evolution thinking that creatures made themselves over billions of years, yet the disciples stated the evident truth: ‘Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them’ (Acts 4:24).

It amazed the disciples as to why people try to combat God. Why do people rage / plot in vain and gather together against God? Why bother. He is all powerful, loves us and has our best interests at heart. Why not worship him and be happy? It’s because people have self-will and a rebellious, selfish streak inside them. It is still amazing that people today still worship and work for demons – an evil, totally defeated army that can only ultimately offer eternal death to their followers (Acts 4:25-26).

The disciples prayed that miraculous healing, signs and wonders would be carried out through the name of Jesus. The place where their meeting was held was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, who enabled them to speak the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).

‘All the believers were one in heart and mind’ (Acts 4:32). This is God’s vision for the church. That we all act in total unity, not fracture into different denominations. We should always mix with as many different congregations as we can to promote unity, friendship and peace. The disciples shared all their belongings and sold land or houses, bringing the money to the apostles so that it could be distributed for people’s needs (Acts 4:35). Modern economists preach that there is a shortage of resources in the world resulting in haves and have-nots. However, there is just a lack of fair distribution due to selfish greed. It is engrained in us to hand down property and finances to our own family, rather than share with our church family, trusting God that when we need things, they will be provided.

A couple called Ananias and Sapphira were inspired to sell their property by other believers such as Barnabas (the Son of Encouragement) to donate money to the fledgling church. However, they were only lukewarm about it. They kept back some of the money. Compared to many modern Christians – who may only give a bare minimum donation – they were extremely generous but they must have boasted and lied about giving all the money from the sale of their to the church. Peter, through a supernatural word of knowledge from the Holy Spirit, told Ananias that he had kept back some of the money. Ananias heard this, fell down and died. Later, his wife also lied to the disciples that they had given all the money from selling the land to the church and she fell down dead too. Then, ‘great fear seized the whole church’ (Acts 5:11).

If we promise our Pastor a certain sum of money or the proceeds from a certain transaction we should never be dishonest about it. God doesn’t want us to be lukewarm towards the church (Revelation 3:15-16). We should never swindle the church due to our love of money. The best way to cure ourselves from a love of money is to be generous. We should start by tithing at least ten percent of our income to the church. That is the bare minimum, after that will come gifts to charities. How else will we build a thriving community for worship and evangelisation if no-one provides adequate financial resources? We shouldn’t ask ourselves what we can get from the church, we should consider what we can give in terms of time, talent and resources.

Psalm 71:9-18

We should always have hope in God no matter how old and grey we are (Psalm 71:18).

As we look back on a long life, we will be able to proclaim God’s righteousness and the marvellous, mighty deeds he has done in our lives.

God will always come quickly to help us particularly when our enemies think we are past it and our strength is gone. He will renew our strength like that of an eagle.

God will always be our rock and our salvation. With Jesus and the Holy Spirit inside us, we are never away from his awesome presence.

Image: By Raphael – Victoria and Albert Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1718099

David and Bathsheba / Peter and John before the Sanhedrin: June 7th 2021

David’s army, led by Joab, destroyed the Ammonites. David stayed in Jerusalem and got up to serious mischief. Like many famous rulers / politicians he gave in to illicit sexual temptation. It would have been better if he had gone to fight with his army as the devil found sinful work for his idle hands to do.

He spotted from the roof of his palace a very beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing. However, she was already married to Uriah the Hittite. David sent for her and adulterously made her pregnant even though he had lots of wives and concubines of his own. Polygamy didn’t seem to work in the Old Testament. It often caused bitter rivalry between spouses. David showed that even when men had several wives and many concubines, they still weren’t satisfied. They still lusted adulterously after other women.

David sent for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, and he dutifully returned from the war. David sent him home imagining he would have sex with Bathsheba and so cover up that she had been made pregnant by David. However, Uriah was too righteous. He refused to enjoy himself while both the ark of the Covenant and his fellow soldiers were in tents (2 Sam. 11:11). The next night, David plotted to get Uriah drunk but he still refused to see his wife.

David then decided to murder Uriah and made him take a letter back to Joab, instructing Joab to put Uriah in the front line of the battle against the fiercest enemy soldiers and abandon him to fight alone. This plan resulted in Uriah being killed in battle along with some other Israelites. David was now guilty of both adultery and murder – both grave sins, either of which cut us off from God forever in hell if we do not repent.

David wasn’t concerned about the loss of the other men and sent an encouraging message to Joab (2 Sam.11:25).

Bathsheba heard that her husband had died in battle but, after a period of mourning, she became yet another one of David’s wives and bore him a son. God was not pleased with David’s behaviour.

Nathan, the prophet, rebuked David by telling him a story of a rich man who refused to sacrifice any of his many sheep and cattle for a visitor but instead sacrificed the only lamb of a poor man that was ‘like a daughter to him’. David was furious at the man’s behaviour but the man in the story was David (2 Sam.12:7). God had given David so much but he had still carried out evil. Through Nathan the prophet, God told David that his wives would be taken away and slept with by someone close to him in broad daylight before all Israel. David’s sinful behaviour had brought calamity down upon him.

David instantly confessed his guilt. Nathan replied that ‘the Lord has taken away your sin’ (2 Sam.12:13-14) but David still had to bear consequences. His new son would die.

David and Bathsheba’s son did become ill. David desperately wept, fasted and pleaded with God, hoping to change his mind but his son died on the seventh day. When David heard that his son was dead, he washed, changed his clothes, worshipped the Lord and then went back to his house and started eating (2 Sam.12:20).

David’s servants were amazed that he got back to normal so soon after this devastating news but David knew he could not bring his son back again: ‘But now he is dead, why should I fast?’ (2 Sam.12:23). David had failed to change God’s mind but he was not bitter. He still loved God and worshipped him.

David and Bathsheba had a second son, Solomon, whom the Lord loved. Bathsheba isn’t named in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. Matthew wrote: ‘David was the father of Solomon whose mother had been Uriah’s wife’ (Matt.1:6). It is nice that Uriah gets a mention in the New Testament when he was treated so appallingly.

The death of David’s first son reminds me of the doctrine of purgatory. God had forgiven David for his grave sins of murder and adultery but, for the sake of eternal justice, David still had to bear a punishment. The Mother Church teaches us that God will forgive all our sins if we repent and renounce them in confession but all sins carry a time penalty. When we die, we have to spend the period of time that our sins have totted up in a waiting room for heaven – known as ‘purgatory’. During our time in purgatory, we are fully purified and made ready to eventually go into heaven. My favourite way of imagining this is to think of heaven as the perfect garden of Eden, yet hiding under the bushes are the souls in purgatory who are peering out into the beauty of heaven but have to wait to be called out into the full sunlit presence of God. Basically, for every crime we have to do the time. This doctrine neatly explains how a serial killer on their deathbed could confess and (eventually) go to heaven. God will forgive them but for the sake of justice, they have to serve a long sentence in purgatory for their crimes. Other denominations would say that the blood of Jesus wipes away both the sin and the time penalty due for our sins. We will all find out in the end how God’s justice works.

We can all agree that whenever we sin, we should contritely confess to the Lord and hope for his graceful mercy.

Joab succeeded against the Ammonites and captured the royal citadel of Rabbah. He told David to bring the whole Israelite army to capture the rest of the city. Joab threatened to name the city after himself if he had to do all the warfare while David stayed at home (sinning). David took the crown from the Ammonite king, plundered the city and made all the Ammonite people carry out forced labour.

Acts 4:1-22

Peter and John were put in prison for ‘proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead’ (Acts 4:2). Even though they were imprisoned, the number of believers continued to grow exponentially.

The next day, the two apostles were questioned by the rulers, elders and teachers of the law in Jersualem.

Peter was still extremely bold and challenged them as to why they were being called to account for an act of kindness.

The man who had been crippled from birth had been healed by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazarene, whom they had crucified but God raised from the dead (Acts 4:10).

Jesus was described as the capstone / cornerstone on which the whole church would be built even though he had been rejected by the chief priests and the Pharisees (Psalm 118:22-24).

Jesus is our one and only Saviour, ‘there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).

Everyone was astonished that ‘unschooled and ordinary’ men could speak with such wisdom and boldness, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The healed man – who was over forty years old and thus a reliable witness – stood with them. He was living proof of the power of Jesus’ name with a fantastic testimony. When we are healed by Jesus, we need to stand with our fellow Christians particularly when they are undergoing trials and persecutions.

The rulers and elders could not deny that the apostles had performed an outstanding miracle (Acts 4:16). They commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach at all to anyone else in Jesus’ name ‘to stop this thing spreading any further’ (Acts 4:17).

Peter and John boldly replied that they would obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19-20). They were released because no one could decide how to punish them.

All the people praised God because of this outstanding miracle.

Psalm 71:1-8

My hope is in the Lord. I have had confidence in him since my youth and this confidence has grown throughout my life as God rescued me from the miry clay time and time again. I have always relied on him and will always praise him, declaring his splendour all day long (Ps.71:8).

God brought me forth from my mother’s womb.

We can take refuge in God and rely on him. He is our hope and our saviour.

Image: http://www.obraz.org/, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

David fights the Arameans / Peter and John Heal a Man Crippled from Birth: June 6th 2021

2 Samuel 9:1-10:19

David tracked down his deceased friend Jonathan’s disabled son. David was determined to show kindness to someone from the house of Saul for Jonathan’s sake.

Jonathan’s son was called Mephibosheth and David restored to him the land of his grandfather, Saul, and allowed him to always eat at his table.

It is wonderful to spend time considering if there is someone we can help out / be kind to and get on and do it.

The king of the Ammonites died and David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to his son. The Ammonite nobles accused the visiting Israelites of being spies and assaulted them disrespectfully (2 Sam.10:4). The Ammonites realised this had angered David and they hired mercenaries to bolster their army. David sent Joab and his entire army of fighting men against them.

The hired men, Arameans, fled in front of the Israelite army. They eventually regrouped and engaged Israel in battle. David’s army killed a huge number of them (2 Sam.10:18) including the commander of their army. This made smaller nations make peace with the Israelites out of respect for them and the Arameans were too afraid to help the Ammonites any more.

Acts 3:1-26

A man crippled from birth asked Peter and John for money. He didn’t even look at them. He didn’t realise that they, out of all the people passing him by, were now adopted sons of God with the power to heal him. Peter commanded the man to look at them (Acts 3:4). The man finally gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Peter said he didn’t have any money ‘but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk’ (Acts 3:6-7). Peter helped the man up and instantly his feet and ankles became strong. The man had never walked for his whole life but was now able to walk, jump and praise God. It was an outstanding miracle and shows that we, as baptized spirit-filled disciples, can also pray powerfully for healing ‘in the name of Jesus’. A crown of onlookers acknowledged the man’s healing and were filled with wonder and amazement.

The place where the healing took place was a temple gate called ‘Beautiful’. Peter and John had seen the beauty in a man created by God, even though he needed healing. The crowd saw the beauty of Jesus’ healing power changing someone’s life for ever. We can encounter someone that needs healing wherever we may travel. The Holy Spirit might whisper to us that we should walk up a different street than usual or go somewhere at a certain time in order to meet someone we can help. Let us boldly seize the chance and not walk on by. A friend of mine specialised in healing strangers in supermarkets. He marched up to a lady one day in the vegetable aisle and said: ‘I can see you have a problem with your leg. I am a Christian, may I pray for you.’ Most people are very grateful for the offer. Everyone likes attention. The lady replied: ‘I didn’t know that I had any problem with my leg but please go ahead anyway’.

Peter asked the crowd why this miracle surprised them. It was not the disciples’ own power or godliness that had healed the man but the authority of Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him (Acts 3:16). Peter reminded the crowd that they had disowned the Holy and Righteous One and killed the author of life (Acts 3: 14-15). So many people in our society today still disown Jesus and allow a murderer, the devil, free access to take up residence within them. The crowd in Jerusalem had acted out of ignorance but modern people are far more guilty. Most are not ignorant of the gospel, they just ignore it and refuse to believe in active rebellion against God.

Peter urged the crowd to repent and turn to God so that their sins would be wiped out (Acts 3:19). When we finally turn to God and become ‘born again’ our whole body and spirit will be refreshed.

Jesus will physically remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything (Acts 3:21) but he spiritually lives in the hearts of all born-again Christians.

Moses had prophesied that Jesus would be raised up from the Jews. All the prophets, from Samuel on, had foretold the appearance of Christ (Acts 3:24). Jesus wants to turn all of us from our wicked ways through the power and encouragement of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is descended from the original patriarch, Abraham, because God had promised him: ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed’ (Acts 3:25).

Psalm 70:1-5

We can pray for God to hasten to save us. He is our help and our deliverer (Ps.70:5).

Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies (Romans 12:14) in contrast to King David who often wanted his enemies to be shamed / confused and disgraced. However, God will make sure that justice is delivered (Romans 12:19-21).

King David prayed that all who seek God will rejoice and be glad in him.

I love the kind salvation that God has given me and so I proclaim, with David, ‘Let God be exalted!’ (Ps.70:4).

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_apostles_Peter_and_John_heal_the_lame_man._Photomechanic_Wellcome_V0034960.jpg

God makes a Promise to David / Save Yourself from this Corrupt Generation: June 5th 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-8:18

David often reflected on his life and circumstances. He was now settled in his palace and he had been given rest from his enemies but he still couldn’t relax about the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam.7:2).

God spoke to Nathan the prophet. God had taken David from shepherding a flock of sheep to be ruler over his people, Israel. God promised to make David’s name great (2 Sam.7:9). The nation of Israel would have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. The Lord said that David’s offspring would be the one to build a house for the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam.7:13). David’s house, kingdom and throne would be established for ever, eventually via Jesus (2 Sam.7:16).

David prayed to God and marvelled at how well God treated him: ‘Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord? (2 Sam.7:19). There is no God like him and, at the time, no chosen people like Israel (2 Sam.7:23-24). David knew that God was trustworthy and had promised him good things (2 Sam.7:29).

David called himself God’s servant, yet was promised wonderful things for both him and his descendants. As baptized Christians, we are no longer servants; we are God’s adopted children, co-heirs with Christ. How much more will he give his children if we are people, like David, after his own heart.

David’s prayer is a great model for us to follow. He praised God for his greatness and for the awesome wonders he had performed to rescue the Israelites from Egypt. He reminded him that he had become the God of Israel. He asked God to keep his promises so that his name would be great (hallowed) for ever and, only then, dared to ask God to bless him and his family. Then, he proclaimed faithfully that his prayer had been instantly answered.

This shows that we shouldn’t just start our prayers with saying what we want. There should be praise, a reminder of God’s wonders and a reminder of his promises in scripture first.

David enjoyed great success in battle defeating the Philistines, the Arameans, the Edomites and the Moabites. He brutally reduced the numbers of Moabites by two-thirds and the survivors became subject to him. He collected plunder from his wars: chariots, silver, bronze and gold shields. King David dedicated these articles to the Lord (2 Sam. 8:11). The Lord gave David victory wherever he went and he ruled his people justly. It was a great start to his reign. If only he had kept on like this without soon succumbing to serious sin.

Acts 2:22-47

Peter continued to dynamically preach to the crowd now that he had been fired up by the Holy Spirit. Peter explained that God had confirmed Jesus was his son through miracles, wonders and signs.

It was God’s plan that Jesus should be handed over and nailed to the cross. God raised him from the dead ‘because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’ (Acts 2:23-24). Jesus is always with us and so we should not be shaken. Even when we mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep, our hearts are always glad and our tongues are always ready to rejoice because he will not abandon us to the grave (Acts 2:26-27).

King David was a prophet and knew that God would place one of his descendants, Jesus, on the throne forever. David had prophesied that Jesus would not be allowed to see decay. Jesus makes known to us the paths of life and fills us with joy in his presence (Acts 2:28).

Peter told the assembled crowd that the apostles were witnesses to the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. They were honest people and they had nothing to gain from misleading people. They would suffer horrible deaths holding to the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We should never reject their eye-witness accounts due to our own pride, stubbornness or being misled by the evil spirit of unbelief, that is so prevalent in the world right now.

All Israel needs to be assured that God had made Jesus, who they had crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

The people were ‘cut to the heart‘ when they realised their crime and asked what they should do. Jesus died because of our past, present and future sins. Our own personal sins carried out today made it necessary for Jesus to die.

Peter told them the remedy for their guilt. They should ‘repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins’. At our baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter was adamant that this would happen not only to the crowd who were present, but also to their children and all those who God would call in the future (Acts 2:38-39).

Adults who repent and are baptized today save themselves from this current corrupt generation through choosing to accept God’s priceless and timeless gifts.

Three thousand new believers were added that day and they lived in unselfish fellowship, with glad and sincere hearts, sharing everything in common and giving to anyone who had need. Many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. There was an atmosphere of awe and praise. They devoted themselves to learning more about God, breaking bread with each other and praying. The believers had glad and sincere hearts. Their new lifestyle was a remarkable contrast to those around them and its joy and exuberance attracted new people each day.

The new believers enjoyed the favour of all people, which is very different to how the church is generally perceived these days. Jewish law and society had given people a baseline of morality and Christianity enhanced this. These days, many people aren’t brought up under a religious code and so they build their lives with no moral foundation. People pick and chose their own morality and modern Christianity with eternal values clashes with a ‘I can do whatever I like as long as it doesn’t hurt someone’ attitude. However, no sin is ever private. God sees whatever we do, wherever we do it. Society rises and falls together based on everyone’s collective actions.

The early church seems idyllic but would soon face persecution. Persecution scattered the new Christian church but God brings good out of every crisis. Scattering led to the growth of the church and the gospel being spread to all known nations.

Proverbs 14:5-14

We should always be truthful witnesses (Prov.14:5). The apostles were truthful witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus while their persecutors poured out lies.

Mocking people don’t recognise wisdom even when it is right in front of them. When discerning people reflect on the word of God, knowledge comes easily.

I know rebellious people who have decided in their hearts that there is no God. Yet, I sometimes read their posts on Facebook. The Bible says that I should not bother (Prov.14:7).

As prudent people, we should honestly appraise our lives and the decisions we make and quickly apologise to God for the sins we have committed, making amends to anyone we have hurt. We should have goodwill towards all people. Foolish people deceive themselves that they don’t need to say sorry to a higher power and that they are ‘good people’ relative to some others.

Rebellious people are swayed by today’s society to do things that are lawful but contrary to the intentions of God (Prov.14:12).

When we die, we will be rewarded by God for the good we have done in this life. He will reveal to us what his plans were for us (he prepared good works in advance for us to do) and how much we achieved in relation to them. This could be a very sobering conversation and most of us will rely on the blood of Christ to cover our enormous shortfalls (Prov.14:14).

If we live an upright life, we will flourish both in this life and in our life everlasting (Prov.14:11).

Image: Saint Peter at Pentecost. Public Domain.

The Ark Brought to Jerusalem / The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost: June 4th 2021

2 Samuel 5:6-6:23

David attacked the Jebusites and captured Jerusalem. He took up residence there and called it ‘the city of David’ (2 Sam. 5:9).

David built up the area around Jerusalem and became more and more powerful because ‘the Lord God Almighty’ was with him (2 Sam. 5:10). Hiram, king of Tyre, sent craftspeople to build a palace for David. David felt secure in his reign (2 Sam. 5:12).

The Philistines came to attack David and he enquired of the Lord whether they would be handed over to him (2 Sam.5:19). David defeated them with the help of God: (2 Sam 5:20). The Philistines abandoned their useless idols and David and his men carried them off – hopefully to be safely disposed of.

The Philistines came for war again and this time the Lord gave David a battle strategy (2 Sam. 5:23). The Lord sent what presumably were legions of angels marching in the tops of the balsam trees to strike the Philistine army ahead of David’s troops. Due to David’s obeying God’s plan, he was successful (2 Sam. 5:25).

David set out to retrieve the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6:2). It was still a dangerous object, to be treated with reverence. One man reached out to steady it when the oxen pulling it on a cart stumbled and he was struck down dead (2 Sam. 6:6-7). David was then too frightened to take the ark to Jerusalem and so stored it for three months in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. His house was so blessed by the ark’s presence that David tried again to move it (2 Sam. 6:12).

As the ark travelled, David danced before it with all his might (2 Sam. 6:14-15). His first wife, Michal daughter of Saul, despised David in her heart for dancing in such a vulgar and undignified way (2 Sam. 6:20). There is always a family member ready to put a damper on any celebration. David was unrepentant and vowed to be even more undignified in the future. He knew that God had chosen him rather than Michal’s father, Saul, to be king (2 Sam. 6:21-22). God liked the way that David behaved. Michal had no children all her life to ensure that none of Saul’s descendants would gain the throne.

David sacrificed to the Lord and generously gave food to all the Israelites (2 Sam. 6:19). When we rejoice and celebrate out of our love of God, it gives us the desire to be generous and hospitable.

Acts 1:23-2:21

The disciples prayed, cast lots and chose Matthias to be added to the eleven disciples. There had to be twelve apostles at the birth of the church as there were twelve tribes of Israel.

Pentecost was a traditional Jewish feast, fifty days after Passover but this year it became the birthday of the Christian church. A sound like a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where the disciples had gathered. What seemed to be tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each of the disciples. All were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other languages (Acts 2:2-4).

Speaking in other tongues / languages is a supernatural gift that all Christians can pray for today. It is the initial gift of power unlocking all the other gifts of the Spirit. It often comes when adults are baptized by Pentecostal Christians, because they are obedient to the Spirit and faithfully pray for his gifts to be unlocked. It is a marvellous gift and everyone should desire it as it brings wonderful benefits. It builds us up internally. It edifies us to be a powerful soldier for Christ. To receive this gift we have to believe, be baptized, and faithfully ask the Spirit to give us this gift. God will not refuse to give good gifts to his children. We are always in total control of this gift and can start it / stop it whenever we like. I feel that it is like a broadband prayer connection to God, instead of trying to communicate with him via a faltering dial-up connection. In my heart, I can feel the Holy Spirit broadcasting prayer to God twenty-four hours a day – to pray in tongues I just have to open my mouth and start to move my vocal chords, giving the Spirit permission to vocalise my prayers. It is extremely powerful. The more we pray in tongues, the more the Holy Spirit will be able to mould us, change us, sanctify us, through us the Holy Spirit speaks the perfect prayer to God.

The Holy Spirit also helps us pray when we don’t know what to say. He will pray the perfect prayer whatever the circumstances and, when we pray in tongues over other people, he will discern the prayer that they need and speak it through us. It is a powerful spiritual weapon used for delivering ourselves and others from evil and for healing.

The more we pray in tongues, the more other gifts will be unlocked. I love to sing in tongues as well. The Holy Spirit will give me a new praise or worship song each day, which I sing aloud as I take my dog for it’s daily walk. I love to record these on my phone and play them later on a keyboard as these are new tunes – written by God. I have never composed music before so I find it delightful that the Holy Spirit uses me to do this. The next gift we might receive is the ‘interpretation of tongues’. This allows us or the people around us to translate tongue languages into our native language. Tongue languages can be supernatural languages – used in heaven or by angels – or it could be one of the seven thousand earthly languages used around the world. My pastor prayed for a lady in Pakistan to receive the gift of tongues and she started speaking in perfect English, even though she had never been taught any.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave all the ‘God-fearing ‘Jews’ who could hear the apostles in Jerusalem the gift of interpreting tongues as they were all able to understand them in their own native language. ‘We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ (Acts 2:11-12). God loves it when we declare his wonders, particularly the wonder of how he rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians and he will bless us greatly as a result. Pentecost reversed Babel, when God made life more difficult by creating different languages (Gen. 11:1-9). Now, people could understand visitors from foreign lands making it much easier to spread the gospel.

Some people made fun of the apostles (Acts 2:13) and said they were drunk. Two thousand years later there are many people – even so-called Christians – who will make fun of this supernatural gift. Some Christians seem to regard their religion as just an academic exercise, they don’t expect to see someone demonstrate supernatural abilities or for prayers to actually achieve anything but it is they who are missing out. Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we will never make much progress in our journey towards God.

After the Holy Spirit descended on Peter, he instantly became a powerful and persuasive preacher and quoted from the prophet Joel (Acts 2:17-21). God will pour out his Spirit on all people in the last days. He has poured it out on thousands of people from all denominations over the last few decades giving them supernatural charismatic gifts. We can thus conclude that we are now in the end times. Young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams. I pray daily that elderly members of my family who have so far been resistant to God will experience such a dramatic, intense dream that it will instantly convert them. The evangelist, Ros Powell, wrote a beautiful article about how her atheist husband was converted through a dream: https://www.rospowell.com/my-old-man-dreamed-a-dream/

Through regularly practicing the gift of Tongues, the Spirit may then give other gifts such as a the gift of prophesy, which is far more useful in public if no-one present can interpret our tongue language.

The gift of tongues enables us to call out perfectly to the Lord through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Acts 2:21).

Psalm 69:29-36

God loves praise and thanksgiving more than sacrifices (Psalm 69:30-31).

The Lord hears the needy and the poor. He has a special regard for prisoners. Prison can be a blessed place where people turn their lives around and can find God. Apostles, like Peter and Paul regarded prison as an opportunity to loudly praise and worship, write Godly letters that would change the world and convert other prisoners and guards. Wherever we find ourselves, we can loudly give thanks to God.

God brought the Jewish people back to their land to rebuild it (Psalm 69:35-36). He has gathered them from around the world as he will always be faithful to his covenants.

God will save us and protect us. Even we are in pain and distress, we know that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (Romans 8:28).

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

David anointed King / Judas must be Replaced: June 3rd 2021

2 Samuel 3:22-5:5

Joab, one of David’s commanders, murdered Abner who David had told to go in peace. Joab killed Abner in revenge for the killing of one of his brothers in an earlier battle.

David declared himself innocent of Abner’s death and he cursed the house of Joab (2 Sam.3:28-29). David wept aloud and fasted at Abner’s funeral to demonstrate to his people that he had no part in the murder. Everything that David did pleased the people.

Even though David was the anointed king, he considered himself weak. He felt his kingship was in a precarious position and called on the Lord to repay evildoers for their deeds (2 Sam. 3:39).

Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth, was murdered on his bed by his own men. They took his severed head to David expecting a reward but David was furious and had the traitors killed.

All the tribes of Israel came to David. They knew that David had been the one to successfully lead their military commands while Saul was king. They knew that the Lord approved of him. David was anointed king over all Israel and he reigned for forty years. David was called on by God to ‘shepherd my people Israel’ (2 Sam. 5:2). His descendant, Jesus, was destined to be the good shepherd for all the world.

Acts 1:1-22

Saint Luke wrote ‘Acts’ as well as the Gospel that bears his name. He wrote more of the New Testament than any other single writer including Saint Paul. Luke was a Gentile not a Jew, a Syrian from Antioch. He was a well educated man – a doctor – and when writing his accounts of Jesus and the apostles seems to have had privileged access to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and her friends.

Luke states that after Jesus’ resurrection he gave many convincing proofs that he was alive over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3). Jesus had told the apostles not to leave Jerusalem until they had been baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). The gifts of power from the Holy Spirit are for all that have been called to be Christians. The Holy Spirit will sanctify us and work on changing us from within into Jesus. The more we hand over to him through praying in the Spirit, the more he will be able to mould and shape us so that we reflect Jesus to all we meet.

Jesus had told the apostles to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jesus ascended into heaven but will one day come back (Acts 1:11).

According to Acts, Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, had bought a field with the reward for his wickedness. However, in Matthew, Judas returned the money and hanged himself (Matt. 27:5). The Chief Priests then bought a field with the returned ‘blood money’ for burying foreigners. Luke wrote that Judas fell over in his new field with fatal consequences (Acts 1:18-19) and that is why it was called the ‘Field of Blood’. Either way, no-one lived in this field, as David had prophesied in Psalm 69:25.

Peter had already taken on the leadership of the fledgling church (one hundred and twenty believers) and announced that they must choose one person from the wider group of disciples, who had accompanied Jesus his whole ministry, and appoint them as an apostle to replace Judas. Peter was keen to maintain twelve apostles as there were twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the corner-stone of the Christian faith and must be defended at all times. Some people acknowledge Jesus as a wise teacher but think he sneaked off into obscurity and died a natural death. What would be the point of that? The whole reason Jesus appeared on earth was to defeat the works of the devil, wiping out sin and taking the sting out of death, opening up the way to eternal life for all those who are baptized and believe. Jesus had to die to make us righteous and justified with God through his precious blood being spilled for us all. If he didn’t die, we would still be in a state of eternal sin and not able to enter God’s presence. Only Jesus, the one mediator between humans and God, was able to make us right with the Father. We cannot earn a place in heaven through our good deeds and impeccable behaviour. When men and women refuse the gospel, it is because they have become hardened as a result of sin and their trust in their own works. The only way to the Father is through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 69:13-28

God will rescue us with his sure salvation when we cry out to him. He will deliver us from those who hate us.

As Jesus was on the cross, the floodwaters of our sins engulfed him. He was in terrible trouble as he became sin and God, the Father, temporarily turned his back on him. As Jesus died, the depths did swallow him up and the pit closed its mouth over him (Psalm 69:15). However, the same Holy Spirit, who is within every baptized Christian, raised and resurrected Jesus from hell. With his great mercy, the Spirit turned to him, rescued him and redeemed him. Jesus redeemed us from sin by the sacrifice of his perfect, holy blood.

The scorn of our friends and families for the gospel message we love can threaten to break our hearts (Psalm 69:19-20). We have to turn to our fellow believers to find comfort and sympathy. Jesus literally died from a broken heart as he was crucified due to the physiological changes in his body. He was disgraced and shamed in death but glorified by his triumphant resurrection.

While Jesus was dying on the cross, the prophecy in Psalm 69:21 was fulfilled. He was given vinegar for his thirst.

Jesus sets a banquet out before us. We just have to believe in him and be baptized to be given eternal life. The banquet table set before us is a trap for non-believers; when they die and are judged, they will have to explain how they consistently failed to believe despite the truthful witness of the disciples and billions of other Christians around the world. Their eyes are darkened so they cannot see but only because they chose not to believe, trusting proudly in their own intellect, which will only lead them to death.

We need to praise God that we are listed with the righteous and not blotted out from the book of life.

Image of Saint Mattias: By Workshop of Simone Martini – Public domain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Matthias#/media/File:Saint_Matthias.PNG

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