Jesus dies on the Cross: April 26th 2021

Joshua 9:16-10:43

The Israelites finally found out they had been deceived by the Gibeonites, who had pretended they lived very far away but were actually neighbours (living only three days away). The cunning Gibeonites had conned the Israelite leaders into swearing an oath not to destroy them.

The Israelites had to conform to their oath but used the ‘small print’ to put the Gibeonites under a curse enslaving them as woodcutters and water-carriers forever. This was better than being annihilated and they were now allied to the winning side.

News of this frightened the king of Jerusalem, Adoni-Zedek, because Gibeon was an important city, much bigger than the conquered city of Ai and the Gibeonites were good fighters (10:2). Yet, they had simply given up and begged for peace with Israel. He joined forces up with the other four Amorite kings and marched on Gibeon to attack it as a punishment for selling out to the Israelites.

The Gibeonites asked for help from Joshua, as they were now the servants of the Israelites, and Joshua came to their rescue with his entire army. God approved this plan. They took the Amorite forces by surprise who were also thrown into confusion by God. The Amorite survivors fled and ‘the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky’ (v.11).

Joshua said to God, in the presence of all the Israelites: ‘O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon’ (v.12) and God obliged. ‘The sun stopped in the middle of the day and delayed going down about a full day’ (v.14). The Lord demonstrated he was fighting for Israel by listening to Joshua’s faithful prayer and acting on it. God controls the movements of all the celestial objects. He sent a star to appear over where Jesus was born, which would have caused a massive upheaval in the entire solar system.

Joshua captured and killed the five kings who had attacked him and went from city to city conquering them, subduing the whole region in one campaign and leaving no survivors. ‘He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded’ (v.40). Here, we can clearly see that God is not to be messed around with. He loves us but he is a fearsome, awesome God. He had left these Amorite cities to build themselves up and become prosperous but they never turned to him in gratitude and worship. They had prostituted themselves by worshipping demonic entities and performing human sacrifices. Eventually, just as the inhabitants of the world were wiped out by the flood, apart from Noah and his close family, God’s divine justice and retribution will come. We all need to ensure that we have fully turned to God and we revere and worship him before our death and / or before the end of the world – which could be tomorrow if God so desires.

Luke 23:26-56

The soldiers made Simon from Cyrene carry Jesus’ cross for him. According to medieval legend, the word for this cross had come from the tree of mercy in the garden of Eden. Adam’s son, Seth, had 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 the pool of Bethesda, where healing miracles took place (John 5:1-9). Eventually, a large log of wood floated up to the top of the pool and this wood was eventually used for Jesus’ cross. Several centuries after Jesus’ death, the cross was retrieved by the Empress Helena and taken back to Rome. Fragments of the true cross were distributed around the world. I have seen two fragments: one in an exhibition at the British museum and another at Lluc monastery in Majorca.

Jesus is mourned by women as he passed by. He predicted that the Jews would go through terrible traumas after he is gone. Jesus prayed for God to forgive the people responsible for his crucifixion: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (v.34). However, we are all responsible for Jesus’ death because we are all sinners. He died to become sin for us and make us righteous and justified before God.

People sneered at Jesus saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One’ (v.35). They missed the point. Jesus freely gave up his life to save us from our sins. God would have sent a legion of angels to prevent Jesus being arrested but Jesus did not want this to happen. He wanted to obey God’s plan for the redemption of mankind. Notice the demonic ‘if’ in the verse. This reminds me of Satan using the word during Jesus’ forty days in the desert: ‘If you are Son of God, tell this stone to become bread’ (Luke 4:3). we need to make sure we never use a demonic ‘if’ when we are talking about the Holy Trinity or our faith.

One of the criminals on the cross says the beautiful, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (v.42). He will be the first person to go to paradise with Jesus. Jesus, as fully God is omnipresent, and so would be in heaven with him. Jesus, was also fully man, and, as a man who had taken on all our sins to become sin, would have to journey down to hell. God the Father had temporarily turned his back on him until he was resurrected by the Holy Spirit. Jesus journeyed to hell on the most audacious rescue mission of all time to rescue Adam and Eve as both their saviour and their son. Jesus died for people, past, present and future. He journeyed to hell to preach the gospel to all the faithful that had gone before him allowing them to go to heaven. What a fantastic reunion it must have been with all the patriarchs: Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, David etc. as Jesus rescued them from their chains while Satan impotently watched his kingdom being emptied.

Jesus promises the criminal on the cross that he will go to heaven even though it is likely he wasn’t baptized. Just the desire for baptism is sufficient and God can do what he likes. Of course, we want to be submerged completely at baptism if this is logistically possible but God is not going to quibble about the amount of water used or which parts of our body were submerged or that we can’t get to any water because we are nailed to a cross.

We have to reflect on whether we will turn to Jesus as the wiser criminal did or reject, sneer, insult and mock him as the other one did and foolishly remain unconverted until our dying breath.

‘The curtain of the temple was torn in two’ (v.45) showing that any Christian can now approach God, our Father. No longer could only the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies just once a year to offer sacrifices to cover our sins. Jesus’ sacrifice wiped away our sin once and for all.

The centurion, a gentile, witnessed Jesus’ death, as the sun stopped shining and darkness came over the whole land and concluded: ‘Surely this was a righteous man’ ‘(v.47).

Jesus was buried by his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. According to legend, Joseph was a tin merchant who looked after Mary and Jesus, after Mary was widowed. The hymn ‘Jerusalem‘ is based on the legend that Jesus and Joseph visited England during the ‘hidden years’ before Jesus started his public ministry. Jesus may have been very well travelled and may have gone on a world tour before his ministry to assess how best to reach the people of the world. The Orthodox Ethiopian church maintain that Jesus and his mother, Mary, visited Tana in Ethiopia during their four year flight from Israel.

Another medieval legend is that Joseph of Arimathea made a staff from the thorn tree from which Jesus’ crown of the thorns was fashioned. The actual crown of thorns is normally kept in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris but was removed for safe keeping during the fire in 2019 https://www.eutouring.com/crown_of_thorns_notre_dame.html.

Following Jesus’ death, the legend is that Joseph travelled to Glastonbury in England with the staff and the holy grail – the cup from which Jesus drank at the last supper. On Wearyall Hill, Joseph planted his staff and it miraculously grew back into a tree – the Glastonbury holy thorn. It always flowered at both Christmas and Easter. Unfortunately, this is one of the most vandalised trees in the world. It was first cut down by Puritans, during the England Civil War, who wanted to wipe out religious superstition causing millions of pounds of loss to our historical inheritance. Fortunately, cuttings had been taken from the tree and it grew back. However, the original tree kept having its branches lopped off. It may not be a coincidence that Glastonbury is a centre for New Age, witchcraft and a major music festival, that doesn’t have an overly Christian ethos. Fortunately, other cuttings survive and the current ‘sacred tree’ is in the grounds of St. Johns churchyard. A flowering sprig is cut from it every December and sent to the Queen to decorate her Christmas table https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-16072789.

Proverbs 10:21-30

Words from the lips of wise people, or messages within their blogs(!), nourish many (v.21). People of understanding ‘delight in wisdom’ (v.23) whereas foolish people die because they fail to judge between good and bad (v.21). We see this today when people fail to come to Jesus, because they fall for one of the most basic traps of the devil: they look at the sexual scandals within the church and conclude that Christianity is worthless. People are weak and Christians are all people struggling with sin. Every profession has had issues with trusted individuals letting the majority down. There have been multiple doctors and nurses who have murdered their patients. There have been hundreds of school teachers who have seduced their pupils. All types of professionals have committed evil acts. Foolish people would not refuse to go to hospital or send their children to school because of them. However, they seize on any scandal identified in the church as proof that Christianity isn’t worth following: ‘A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct’ (v.23).

We have a clear statement that the Lord’s blessing can bring wealth (v.22). Many of God’s friends over the generations have been exceedingly wealthy: Abraham, Daniel, Joseph, Jacob, Job, David, Solomon. God doesn’t have a problem with money, ‘he adds no trouble to it’ (v.22). He has a problem with people who love money more than they love him.

The righteous will get what they desire (v.24). They will stand firm for ever (v.25), take refuge in the Lord (v.29) and never be uprooted (v.30). The fear of the Lord adds length to life (v.27).

When we are sent to people, we must never be lazy so we don’t irritate them (v.25). We must be a blessing and show people that ‘the prospect of the righteous is joy’ (v.28).

The Gibeonite Deception / Jesus before Pilate: April 25th 2021

Joshua 8:1-9:15

God reassured Joshua that he was back on his side, now that the disobedience of Achan (who stole articles from Jericho that had devoted to demonic entities) had been dealt with: ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged’ (v.1).

We can all rely on God’s promises when he clearly speaks to us. God told Joshua that the city of Ai had been delivered into the hands of the Israelites – all they had to do was attach it. After the upcoming victory, the Israelites would be allowed to take all their possessions and livestock from the defeated city. Ai had obviously not been quite as corrupt as Jericho. God is a master strategist and the Holy Spirit, the master of wisdom, will tell us the best way to accomplish any holy task. Joshua was instructed to set an ambush behind the city.

Joshua drew out all the fighting men from Ai and made them pursue the Israelites. Every single man unwisely left the city, It was a simple matter for the Israelite ambush hidden to the West to enter the undefended city, capture it and set it on fire. The main army of the Israelites turned to fight their pursuers once the city had been captured and the men from the Israelite ambush left the captured city and attacked the army of Ai from behind. God had formulated a perfect military strategy. The Israelites killed all the 12,000 inhabitants and hung the king of Ai on a tree. The city was turned into a permanent heap of ruins. Killing all the men and women sounds harsh by modern standards but they were all worshippers of demonic entities and they couldn’t be allowed to pollute the faith of the Israelites and corrupt them. The Israelites had to follow God’s precise instructions to preserve their precious relationship with him. They depended on his favour completely. They took all the livestock and plunder from the devastated city but only because God had permitted them to do so (v.27).

Joshua renewed the covenant with God at Mount Ebal. He built an altar of uncut stones on which they offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings (v.31). Joshua copied the law of Moses onto stones and he read out all the law again to the whole assembly, including women and children and foreigners who lived among them (v.35).

Things were looking up for the Israelites again. If they kept being obedient to God, following his laws and carrying out his instructions perfectly, everything would work out easily for them.

All the kings West of the Jordan heard about the total annihilation of Jericho and Ai and came together to make war against Israel. So what! They didn’t have the one true God fighting for them. Bring it on. It was similar to when the modern nation of Israel was established in 1948. The Jews were almost immediately attacked by Arab armies from five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The aggressors were never going to win. The Israelites are God’s holy people and he had promised that territory to them.

The people of Gibeon decided they could only survive the onslaught of the Israelites by trickery. They sent a very ragged delegation, pretended that they were from a ‘distant country’ and asked for a treaty (9:6).

The Israelites were slightly dubious, They couldn’t make a treaty with someone who lived near them. as they would need to take over their territory and annihilate them. The Gibeonites said they were from ‘a very distant country’ (v.9). They pretended they had travelled for weeks by packing mouldy bread, worn-out sacks, old wineskins and by wearing old clothes and patched sandals.

The Israelites made yet another terrible mistake. They did not ask the Lord whether the Gibeonites were telling the truth before Joshua made a peace treaty with them (v.15). Moses would have asked the Lord. We should consult with God throughout the day about any decisions we have to make. The Holy Spirit living within us will let us know what is true and what is our best course of action. Secular people say: ‘follow your gut feeling’. As baptized Christians, we know that the font of all knowledge, the Holy Spirit, does not live in our guts. He lives in our hearts.

Luke 22:63-23:25

The chief priests asked their captive, Jesus, ‘Are you then the Son of God?‘ Jesus replied ‘You are right in saying I am.’ (v.70).

‘I am’ is a reference to the most holy name of God revealed in Exodus 3:13-14: ‘God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you’.

In John 8:58, Jesus said, ‘before Abraham was born, I am’. He was claiming equality with God by using the holy name.

I totally agree with the Jews that no-one should ever say the formal name of God, the one beginning with a ‘Y’. It is totally holy and worthy of our utmost respect. We should always say ‘The Lord’ instead.

The chief priests tried to have Jesus condemned by Pilate by falsely accusing Jesus of opposing ‘payment of taxes to Caesar’ (23:2). They thought that a threat to the Roman income would be a good way to get Pilate fired up.

Pilate was keen to release Jesus. Pilate had no concern for a dispute about someone claiming to be king of a conquered nation: ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man’ (23:4).

However, Pilate was too weak to let Jesus go straight away. He sent him to the evil Herod for a second opinion. This Herod was the son of the King Herod who had tried to kill Jesus, as soon as he was born, by massacring all the young male children in the surrounding area.

Herod was ‘greatly pleased’ (v.8) to see Jesus. He had enjoyed listening to John the Baptist, until he had his head cut off. Many evil people are fascinated by holy men. They are drawn to the power and truth of their words. God always draws people to him, no matter what their background and reputation is. Herod wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle to order as a kind of parlour magic trick. ‘Jesus gave him no answer’ (v.11) so Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. They sent Jesus back to Pilate and that day, the former enemies, Herod and Pilate were reconciled. Quite often, evil people who hate God find they can get on with other groups or individuals they normally dislike if they can unite in support of an evil act, such as abortion,

Both Pilate and Herod were prepared to let Jesus go after unfairly ‘punishing him’ to show off their power. There was ‘no basis for your charges against him’ (v.14).

The crowd shouted for a convicted murderer, Barabbas, to be released instead of the innocent Jesus (v.18-19).

Barabbas’s full name was actually ‘Jesus Barabbas’ – as Jesus was a relatively popular name at the time. Jesus meaning ‘God is salvation’. Barabbas is an Aramaic name meaning ‘Son of the Father’. So the choice for the crowd was between two men both named Jesus, one called ‘Son of the Father’ and the other one actually son of the Father.

Jesus died in place of a convicted murderer as he was also dying to release the entire human race from the death sentence for our sins.

For the third time, Pilate tried to release Jesus but the shouts of the crooked crowd prevailed. Pilate caved in to the pressure. He decided to crucify our innocent saviour just because the crowd kept on shouting. Pilate was guilty. Leaders have to continue with the strength of their convictions, they cannot cave in to pressure.

We have to keep our faith to our final breath and refrain from mortal sin that could jeopardise our place in heaven. Many pastors teach, ‘Once saved, always saved’ but that is nonsense. When we are saved, we have to stop sinning to remain saved. A person cannot say they are saved and then continue to work in an abortion clinic killing unborn children everyday. They will go to hell without full renouncement of their profession and repentance. A serial killer can’t continue with their crimes after meeting Jesus without divine retribution. The biggest threats to our everlasting salvation are the grave sins of adultery and murder that are so commonplace in our modern society. Everyday medical practices such as IVF, or the morning-after contraceptive pill, open up the opportunity to kill a human being just as the baying crowd participated in our innocent Saviour being killed. Every fertilised embryo is a human being. If we have helped created them, we need to be very careful what happens to each and every one of them.

The Mother Church teaches that no-one can be certain of their salvation. We know that baptism is necessary to be saved but the judgement on our individual salvation belongs to God. Presumption is a sin and exists in two kinds. We can presume upon on our own goodness (hoping to able to save ourselves without help from above) or we presume ‘upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit) (CCC,2092). We all have to hope in God’s mercy and die with ‘God, have mercy on me a sinner’ on our lips.

Psalm 51:1-9

We have a beautiful psalm today containing a wonderful everyday prayer: ‘Have mercy on me O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin’ (v:1-2).

A Catholic priest prays for this washing and cleansing before the prayer of consecration in the Holy Mass. The priest must wash his hands at this point because he is about to touch the very bread of life himself.

We were all sinful at birth (v.5), sinful from the time our mothers conceived us because we inherited ‘original sin’ from our ancestor Adam. We are all born with an in-built urge to do bad things and be disobedient to God. We are all born with a sin which is ‘the death of the soul’ (CCC, 403). We have an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence”. When we are baptized, all original sin and personal sin is erased and we turn back to God. However, we remain weakened and inclined to evil and so need to invite the Holy Spirit fully into our life to give us power to overcome sin. The Holy Spirit living in our hearts will sanctify us (make us holy) if we allow him to.

The Holy Spirit will also teach us wisdom in our most inmost place (v.6).

When we are baptized we are cleansed from all sin and are ‘whiter than snow’ (v.7).

When we make a valid confession, it is like receiving a loving hug from our Father, welcoming us back home. Our sins aren’t just forgotten, they are completely deleted. If you are ever asked to attend an exorcism, be warned; a demon possessing someone likes to name out loud the sins of everyone else present in the room. The more embarrassing and incriminating the better. It’s as if a demon can just read our sins out from a book. We must be sure to attend an exorcism with no unconfessed sins. Then the demon can say nothing about us, our sins have been deleted from God’s face. God has blotted out our iniquity (v.9). Thanks be to God.

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

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