Marriage / Divorce and Jesus’ Disciples Baptize: May 3rd 2021

Joshua 23:1-24:33

Joshua gave a farewell speech to the leaders of the Israelites before he died. He reminded them that the Lord, their God, would drive out the tribes before them so they could conquer all of the promised land. They must be ‘very strong‘ and obey all that was written in the book of the law ‘without turning aside to the right or to the left’ (v.6).

They must not associate with the nations that remain and not invoke the names of their heathen gods, swear by them, serve them or bow down to them (v.7). Just like us now, they must ‘hold fast to the Lord your God’ no matter what temptations they face.

As the Lord God will fight for them, just one Israelite will be able to rout a thousand enemies. If they turn away, ally themselves with the survivors of their enemies, intermarry and associate with them, this will bring them down (v.12). God will no longer drive their enemies out and their pagan associates will ‘become snares and traps for you, whips on your back and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you’ (v.13).

The instructions are all very clear. However, in the future, sex is going to bring down the entire nation. Lusting after Pagan women will result in intermarriage leading to Israel and Judah being defeated by the Assyrians and Babylonians and led into exile. Even Solomon, the wisest man in history, will be brought down by his hundreds of Pagan wives tempting him to worship other deities.

Sexual temptation is still a massive problem for Christians today. Christians can’t divorce and get remarried. God hates divorce. Yet, we find many Christians, including those who would regard themselves as ‘born again’ divorcing and getting remarried or marrying a divorcee. This is a grave sin that will bar people from heaven. Marriage is permanent and lasts until one of the partners is deceased, The only way a Christian can ‘marry’ for the second time is if their partner dies or they prove that the first marriage didn’t actually exist through an annulment process (for example, proving the first marriage wasn’t consummated).

Christians cannot divorce and get remarried like Pagans do. Christian marriage is for life. Of course, this truth can be very painful but it shouldn’t put people in danger. If people are in abusive relationships they can separate and live apart but, until one of the partner dies or the marriage is annulled, there is meant to be no sex with different people / no extra marriages. If married people fall in love with other people, they can live with them but only as brother and sister. Sex isn’t allowed. This is massively difficult for the modern world to accept. Most people do not believe they can live in a celibate relationship.

This is why marriage should not be entered into without a lot of care and consideration. We must try to ensure we have found our true, lifelong partner before we commit to them. The prophet Ezra had to lead all the Israelites in separating themselves from their Pagan marriage partners in order to make the nation right with God again (Ezra 9:1-44). When we come to God after repenting our past mistakes, we are meant to stop sinning. If we are in an illicit marriage, we wake up each day in a state of grave sin. We have to choose which is more important, obeying God or sex.

The model for a happy celibate marriage is the Holy Family: Joseph and Mary, Mother of God. Mary was a temple virgin – a lifelong vocational virgin – and the temple elders asked the elderly widower, Joseph, to be her guardian to remove her from the temple before she started menstruating. Mary stayed a virgin all her life because she had been dedicated to God.

Joshua pointed out that all of the good promises that God had made had been delivered. God is faithful to us. However, he is also faithful to the threat that his anger will burn against us and we will perish if we serve other gods. It’s a mystery why we haven’t all been wiped out already when we look at the state of the world today. God is being patient with us to save as many as possible but eventually judgement day will fall. ‘He is a holy God; he is a jealous God’ (24:19) Before Jesus made us righteous with God, God would not have forgiven our rebellion and our sins and he still won’t if we don’t approach him through the precious blood of his son by confessing our belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Even Abraham’s father, Terah, worshipped pagan gods. We can be the first generation in our family to convert to Christ. If our parents are still living, we can be an example to them and pray for their salvation. Part of your mission on earth might be saving your own family as you also preach to others.

Choose who you serving today. Are you going to worship pagan entities, demons, yourself or celebrities? Are you going to worship at the altar of consumerist capitalism? As for me, I will serve the Lord.

Joshua made the Israelites witness to themselves that they had chosen to the Lord and would throw away all foreign gods but, with the luxury of the rest of the Bible, we know a terrible fate is awaiting them due to their inability to be faithful.

Joshua set up a stone as a witness against them under the oak tree near the holy place of the Lord: ‘It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us’ (v.27). All of creation seems to be able to record events and play them back, Jesus is in all created matter. Interestingly, some paranormal investigators think that ghosts more frequently occur in old stone-built cottages because the stones record past events and play them back like a DVD player. Jesus preached that objects we generally regard as inanimate do have their own interior life. This probably explains the fascination with rocks and crystals in the New Age movement. Engineers know that crystals such as quartz oscillate at an incredibly precise frequency, which is why they are built into watches. Mountains will fling themselves into the sea if we have enough faith and stones would have cried out on Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem (for his cataclysmic showdown with the devil) if the crowds had not shouted ‘Hosanna’ (Luke 19:40).

Joshua sent the people away to their own inheritance and died (at the age of a hundred and ten) (v.29). The nation of Israel had served the Lord during his lifetime and the lifetime of the other elders who had been direct eye-witnesses of God’s miracles. However, Joshua had not appointed a single successor to keep the whole nation unified. The Israelites had all split into their different tribes. Since Moses had come back to Egypt, having a single leader who could communicate with God and, most importantly, intercede for his people to stop God’s wrath at their disobedience had been vital. The only clear successor they had was Eleazar the Priest’s son, Phinehas, taking over the priesthood. The last few verses of Joshua clear the decks of the older generation – with the bones of Joseph finally being laid to waste. A new chapter in Israel’s history is just about to start.

John 3:22-36

Jesus and his disciples spent some time in the countryside and his disciples baptized people (4:2). People started to flock to Jesus’ disciples rather than John the Baptist who didn’t mind his ministry dwindling: ‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (v.30). This is why the church celebrates John the Baptist’s birthday on the 25th June after the longest day of the year on the 21st June in the Northern hemisphere – the nights are just starting to become longer. Jesus’ birthday is the 25th December – after the shortest day on the 21st – to mark the coming of the light.

The church is the bride of Jesus. He is the bridegroom. John the Baptist was the friend who was full of joy when he heard the voice of the bridegroom (v.29). Jesus came from heaven and is above all. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his conception and the Holy Spirit will also live in us when we become baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are greater than John the Baptist, because the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ has made us justified and righteous in the eyes of our heavenly Father.

‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him’ (v.36).

Psalm 55:12-23

It is particularly hurtful to be betrayed by a friend or close colleague.

When King David called out to the Lord, he was always saved (v.16). God ransomed him unharmed from the battle waged against him.

Jesus ransomed us from judgement for our sins by the shedding of his precious blood. He will always save us if we renounce and repent of our sins and turn to him with belief.

Many people are slick orators but their words are evil weapons. They plan war and disaster. Many will never change their ways and will have no fear of God until their death and the eternal separation from God they have chosen.

We should trust in God and cast our cares on him. He will sustain us.

If we have any worries in our life, we should praise, worship and speak in tongues. This perfect prayer from the Holy Spirit will build up our inner self to know that God ‘will never let the righteous fall’ (v.22).

Image: Image by Gabriel Ballerini from Pixabay

Becoming ‘Born Again’ / Coming into the Light: May 2nd 2021

Joshua 21:20-22:34

Cities were allotted to the Levites (the priests) from all the remaining tribes of Israel. The Levites were to run the refuge cities, such as Shechem, where those accused of murder could shelter before a fair trial.

God had given Israel all the land he had sworn to their forefathers (v.43). The Israelites had acted in faith, conquered and settled there. How wonderful it is to work in partnership with God on a major project. God gave them rest on every side from their enemies. Every one of the Lord’s good promised to the house of Israel was fulfilled (v.45). Praise the Lord. If we become baptized and believe our Lord Jesus will fulfil his promise to us: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’ (Mark 16:16).

The Reubenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh had faithfully battled for the other Israelite tribes to conquer the rest of the promised land even after they had been given territory of their own. They had faithfully fulfilled the promise they had made to Moses. They had riskily left their families behind on the other side of the Jordan in Gilead while they fought. I would assume that God supernaturally protected them while their fighting men were away or they could have been easy pickings for the Canaanites. Joshua blessed these soldiers for their faithful service and sent them home. They did not return empty-handed. They had accumulated massive herds of livestock, precious metals and other plunder taken from their enemies. When we are faithful to our word and work for God, we can also be blessed financially and materially. He warned these departing tribes not to forget God and to always: ‘love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul’ (22:5).

It was an amicable parting of ways as these faithful fighters returned to Gilead but soon there was a massive misunderstanding between them and the rest of Israel. On their journey back home, they constructed for themselves am imposing altar on the Israelite side of the Jordan. This appeared to be scandalous. The only altar to God was meant to be the one before the official tabernacle. The other Israelites were scandalised and ‘gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them; (v.12). Fortunately, before the fighting started, the Israelites sent the son of the priest and a delegation from each of the other tribes to find out why they had done this. They assumed that the tribes in Gilead had already started worshipping demonic entities and this unauthorised new altar was for pagan worship but they wisely went on a fact-finding mission first. They had genuine concerns for their future having witnessed God’s wrath against those who were unfaithful to him.

The tribes who had returned to Gilead were mortified that they intentions had been misinterpreted. They had built this new altar, not for offering sacrifices, but to witness that they would only worship at the official Israelite sanctuary. It was just a replica in memory of the official one, a witness that, even though they lived far away on the other side of the river Jordan, they were still part of Israel worshipping the one God. Phinehas the priest and the leaders were relieved at this explanation and explained it to the rest of the Israelites. They were glad to hear this and war was averted.

The replica altar was given a name: ‘A Witness Between Is that the Lord is God’ (v.34).

It is refreshing to read of a society that is so concerned about not upsetting God. The Israelites had learned through hard experiences that things go much more smoothly for a country when people diligently follow God’s laws. Many of our politicians seem to have no such fear with their condonement of divorce, abortion and lack of respect for Sundays. We reap what we sow.

John 3:1-21

Nicodemus, from the Jewish ruling council came to see Jesus at night. He confirmed that all the council knew Jesus had come from God, ‘for no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ (v.2).

This is why there is no logic to people deciding to be an atheist / humanist / secularist. Jesus was a real historical figure who proved he was the son of God by performing amazing public miracles that were witnessed by thousands of people. If you do not believe in these historical facts, you stand condemned. People refuse to come to the light for fear that their evil deeds will be exposed by it. If you call evil things good and good things evil you will hate the light of truth and avoid it.

Here we have one of the most beautiful phrases in the Bible: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (3:16).

We now come to one of the most fascinating discussions in the Bible. Jesus cryptically said, ‘I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’ (3:3).

Nicodemus was as puzzled as the rest of Christianity: ‘”How can a man be born again when he is old”, Nicodemus asked (v.4).

What does it mean to be a ‘born-again’ Christian and, as it is so vital, how does one become one?

I would regard myself as ‘born again’ as I know God loves me, I love him, I find great joy in reading his word and want to live in a way that pleases him. However, looking back on my life when exactly was I ‘born again’?

I was baptized at the age of one. I went to a Christian school, which had prayers and hymns in assembly and weekly chapel services. My whole class studied the Bible for an O level in Divinity when I was fifteen. My parents occasionally took me to church. However, none of this stopped me carrying out teenage sins or gave me a burning urge to study Christianity further. I always knew that God existed and most days prayed the ‘Our Father’ prayer. The Mother Church would say that when I was baptized, even though I was an infant and knew virtually nothing about it, I would have been given the Holy Spirit, my personal sin would have been washed away and the Original sin I had inherited from Adam would also have gone. The reason I sinned when older was due to the typical human tendency to sin and evil termed ‘concupiscence’.

When I was forty, I visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome and suddenly the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins. He convinced me that there would be judgement and I needed to get my faith life sorted. I joined a course and became a Catholic becoming confirmed at the Easter Vigil. Before and after this, I had a burning desire to find out more about God and Jesus. In theological terms, my confirmation would have strengthened me and activated the Holy Spirit within me to be a more powerful witness for Jesus. However, soon after becoming a fully active member of the church I became very sick and felt like I was dying. I made a dramatic recovery after a charismatic priest prayed a healing / deliverance prayer over me.

A couple of years later, I attended a ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ course and prayed to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. A week later, I started to pray in the Spirit. However, I didn’t do it very much or for very long and started attending a church that was undynamic. A couple of years ago I was laid low by a spiritual attack and I only recovered after starting to also attend a charismatic Pentecostal church. I prayed ‘The Sinner’s prayer’ more than once: ‘Dear Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I believe that you died and rose again from the dead to save me from my sins. I want to be with you forever. Forgive me all the sins I have committed against you. I open my heart to you and ask you to come into my heart and life and be my personal Saviour. In Jesus name. Amen’. God healed me from spiritual attack and drove out the enemy that was causing it. However, I still had issues with habitual sin. God finally strengthened me and sorted me out when I handed over the reins to him and started to pray in tongues for up to an hour a day. The temptation to commit sin melted away.

So looking back, I did receive a seed of the Holy Spirit at my infant baptism. This gradually grew until it burst into life during my trip to Rome. My confirmation made me a stronger enemy of the devil and he tried to snuff me out. The Holy Spirit started to activate more spiritual gifts inside me after my baptism in the Holy Spirit but the true process of sanctification only started once I gave up trying to conquer sin by myself and handed the reins over to God.

The one thing all Christians should agree on is that baptism is vital for salvation. A Christian friend, who feels she is born again, said to me ‘I don’t feel I need to be baptized’. But feelings are irreverent. You might ‘not feel’ you need to possess a valid visa to enter foreign countries but if you turn up on their border without one, you can be turned away. Heaven follows laws and justice. For all we know, there might be a demon with a list on a clipboard objecting to every one who turns up at the gate of heaven without the permanent stamp of baptism on their soul. Baptism permanently marks us as a child of God.

My Pentecostal friends would say that once you have said the ‘Sinners Prayer’ and really believed it you are saved. Also get baptized, get a Bible and read it. However, I am slightly concerned that if my friend thinks she is saved without yet going through the legalistic step of baptism, that our feelings might deceive us in this matter. The gift of eternal life is so precious, we should not skimp on any requirements that Jesus stipulated. Should we be the judge of whether we believe? Shouldn’t that be down to God’s judgement. My Catholic friends would say we cannot presume we are saved, we have to live and die in hope of God’s mercy on us but that might be too gloomy. Not many Catholics speak in tongues. If it was more common, this supernatural proof of the Holy Spirit living within us should give us full faith in our salvation because of Ephesians 1:13 – 14: ‘When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.’

This is how Pentecostals can be so certain that they are saved. Praying in Tongues prove that the Holy Spirit lives within us. His presence within us is a deposit guaranteeing our our inheritance. Acts 5:32 says: ‘We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him’. Hallelujah.

God can do what he wants. If he wants to change any rules, that’s his prerogative. Jesus promised one of the criminals on the cross that he would be in paradise with Jesus that day and it was unlikely the criminal was baptized. We trust in God’s mercy for the souls of children who die before baptism including aborted children. Catholics even believe that unreached people, who have never heard the gospel message, can be saved if they live righteous lives and would have responded to the call to be baptized if they had been told of its necessity. All of us can live righteous lives in accordance with God’s laws that have been inscribed on everyone’s hearts. When Peter was preaching to the Gentile Cornelius, in Acts 10, the Holy Spirit came upon all in his household who heard his message. After they had received the Spirit and had began to speak in tongues and praise God, Peter then orders them to be baptized. So there appears to be no hard and fast rule. We do receive the Holy Spirit during baptism but we could also be ‘born again’ prior to this – either by devotedly asking Jesus to come into our lives or from hearing the word of God. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is inside us, that we have called on the name of the Lord and confessed ‘Jesus is Lord’ and knowing we have been baptized strengthens our faith so we know we are beloved children of God and will receive God’s gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Hallelujah.

Being ‘born again’ does seem to be more than infant baptism. It is an adult consenting encounter with the power of the Holy Spirit that enkindles the fire of faith within us empowering us to manifest the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. We must be ‘born of the Spirit’ (3:8). There seems to be a single time in people’s lives when this happens and people do not forget this conversion experience. It is a memorable moment of transformation and turning fully to God. Speaking to dynamic Christians they can usually recall when it dawned on them that God exists and they wanted to worship him. My wife came this conclusion when she standing on a beautiful hill in the Cotswolds. There was wonderful light, a soft gentle breeze and the quiet peace of nature. The beauty and tranquillity of God’s creation touched her heart and she turned to him.

Jesus confirmed that no-one had yet gone into heaven apart from ‘the one who came from heaven’ (v.13) i.e. him. All the dead of the world up until Jesus’ crucifixion were stuck in hell. The righteous dead were released into heaven after Jesus died, descended into hell and preached the gospel to them. Moses in the desert lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole to save the Israelites from the wrath of God that had been unleashed to punish them for their sins. Jesus would be lifted up on the cross, so that if we look to him and believe in him, the wrath of God because of our sins will be transferred to him. Jesus paid the full ransom price for us once and for all through this precious blood. Jesus came to save us, not condemn us.

Psalm 55:1-11

David prayed for his prayers and pleas to be heard (v.1) He was being troubled by his thoughts. He was distraught and suffering (v.3).

Poor King David was in a bad way for someone of such unshakeable faith. He longed for the wings of a dove so that he could fly from his troubles (v.6). He wanted to hurry to his place of shelter. However, all of us – especially Kings – have to stand and face our demons and we get the strength to do this from the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, the dove of peace, is within us. If we are distraught, we can flee to him by praying in tongues. Handing over our vocal cords to him so that he can pray the perfect prayer for us.

We have a massive advantage over King David we can know Jesus and he will come to live within us and give us shelter. Jesus said: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).

Image: The Chosen press photos (press.thechosen.tv), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Baptism of Jesus / Call of the Disciples: 30th April 2021

Joshua 17:1-18:28

The Israelites struck a blow for women’s rights as the daughters of the tribe of Manasseh received an inheritance among the sons (v.6).

The land of Gilead was assigned to the rest of the descendants of Manasseh. They went on to make a renowned rare, perfumed healing balm that inspired this beautiful song. The Balm of Gilead is interpreted as a spiritual medicine that is able to heal Israel (and sinners in general) i.e. Jesus’ Christ’s precious blood that he poured out for us on the cross.

The Canaanites put up strong resistance in areas that they were determined not to give up (v.12), However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labour (v.13). The Canaanites were a sophisticated fighting force and had iron chariots (v.16) – formidably effective when fighting on a plain. Joshua encouraged the people of Joseph: ‘You are numerous and very powerful’ (v.17). They would be able to conquer the land with God’s help despite the chariots of their enemies.

The tent of meeting was set up at Shiloh (18:1). Seven tribes were still to receive an inheritance and so three men from each tribe were sent out to survey the land. It would then be split into seven parts and allocated by lot. The only proviso was that the tribe of Joseph would remain in the North and Judah would remain in the South. Joshua showed his wisdom and trust in the Lord. Casting lots, in the presence of the Lord, would ensure that the land was allocated as God desired. God can influence the role of the dice when required. Amongst my many sins as a teenager, I used to play the role-playing game: ‘Dungeons and Dragons‘. I have since renounced and repented of such activities. Before starting, you have to choose to play as one of 12 character classes, such as fighters, clerics or sorcerers (I told you this was a dodgy activity). You then make decisions, while imagining you are this fantasy character, about how to progress in various adventures (made up by an imaginative friend, termed a ‘Dungeon Master’). The idea is to progress through various adventures, nurturing your character, making him (or her) stronger and gathering treasure by battling legendary creatures. The outcome of fights are determined by rolling various strangely-shaped multicoloured dice. I always choose to be a paladin – a charismatic / fancy type of knight. I was always particularly attracted to the word ‘charisma’. One day, our ‘Dungeon Master’ was in a particularly vindictive mood and set up our adventure so we would have to fight the powerful demon, Asmodeus, one of the Biblical big-hitters in the book of Tobit. He basically wanted to kill off all our characters whom we had nurtured for months. I waded into battle – a certain suicide mission as I would have to roll sixes continually on a normal dice to win. However, there was an option to invoke the angel Gabriel for help in the battle and, lo and behold, after asking for angelic assistance every time I rolled the dice in fantasy ‘combat’ with the demon, I rolled a six. I rolled about twenty sixes in a row and defeated this virtually invincible foe. The probability of this occurring is infinitesimally small. Someone was controlling the outcome of those dice rolls to show that when I ask for help, evil can be defeated no matter how impossible it seems. There are other forces in the room when people play games like this. Don’t do it kids, stick to less ‘spiritual’ games. I would say ‘Monopoly’ but that combines being immoral with being incredibly dull. Maybe kick a football around outside instead.

John 1:29-51

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him and proclaimed ‘Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ The Holy Spirit residing in John gave him a prophetic word of knowledge allowing him to tell the future of his holy relative. The blood of the Passover lambs applied to the door frames and lintels of the Israelites’ houses in Egypt protected them from death as the destroying angel passed over. Jesus’ blood saves us from our sins, destroying death and opening the gates of heaven for us.

Even though Jesus was born six months after John, Jesus was ‘before him’ (v.30) as ‘he was with God in the beginning’ of all things (v.2).

John revealed the reason he had been baptizing. It was so that Jesus ‘might be revealed to Israel’ (v.31). John had seen the Holy Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Jesus. John testified that Jesus ‘is the Son of God’ (v.34). Jesus was 100% God and 100% human – a unique mathematical mystery.

Some pastors say that Jesus didn’t perform any miracles before the Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism. I don’t think we can be so sure as Jesus was 100% filled with the Holy Spirit from the time of his conception. If he didn’t perform miracles in his ‘hidden years’, it would have been because he freely chose to lay aside his supernatural Godly powers until he was publicly revealed as the Son of God. We will find out more of the story when we get to heaven. I remember Monty Python publishing an amusing school report for God that complained about Him parting the waters of the swimming pool, ‘which was both unsporting and dangerous’: https://friarminor.blogspot.com/2009/09/monty-pythons-report-card-for-god.html

Andrew was the first disciple to follow Jesus. Verse 35 shows that he was originally John’s disciple but went after Jesus when John identified him as ‘the Lamb of God’. I have visited Saint Andrew’s tomb in Edinburgh cathedral. The first thing that Andrew did after finding Jesus was to find his brother, Simon and tell him ‘We have found the Messiah’ (v.41). Andrew brought his brother to Jesus, who renamed him ‘Peter’, which translates as rock. It is one of our roles as disciples to bring people to meet Christ. Jesus will have a great future mapped out for them.

The next day Jesus finds Philip and asks him to follow him. Philip found Nathanael (who many people think is the same person as Bartholomew) and told him to ‘come and see Jesus’ (v.46). Church tradition is that Nathanael / Bartholomew later carried a translation of Matthew’s gospel to India.

Nathanael was sceptical about Jesus when he heard that he was from Nazareth. ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (v.46). My wife pours a similar amount of light-hearted scorn on me for growing up in Essex. Nazareth did not have a good reputation see: https://www.gotquestions.org/Matthew-2-23-Jesus-Nazarene.html

Jesus was able to instantly assess Nathanael’s character, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false’ (v.47). He had seen him under a fig tree before Philip had called him.

Nathanael blurted out, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel’ (v.49). Both Jesus and these early disciples are all being moved by the Holy Spirit to utter prophetic words of knowledge.

Jesus saw in Nathanael some of the qualities of the patriarch Jacob and promised him the same sort of vision that Jacob had experienced: ‘You shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’ (v.51).

It is touching to read how these disciples started their life with Jesus and remember how they kept their faith until their violent deaths. Saint Andrew was crucified on 30 November 60AD, by order of the Roman governor Aegeas. He was tied to an X-shaped cross in Greece, and this is represented by the white cross on the Scottish flag. Saint Peter was crucified upside down in Rome during the reign of the tyrannical Emperor Nero. Saint Philip was scourged and crucified in Egypt. Nathanael / Bartholomew the apostle was either flayed alive and beheaded in Armenia or crucified upside down (head downward) like Saint Peter. Even if they could have foreseen their eventual appaling fate, this men would still have chosen to follow Jesus. https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/64320/Local-News/How-did-the-apostles-die

Many people go on holidays and unwisely visit temples that are not Christian – from which you can bring back unholy oppressing spirits. It is much better to visit great Christian cathedrals and shrines when you are are abroad. So far in my life, I have visited various magnificent cathedrals preserving the relics of Saints Peter, Mark and Andrew. I have also visited the relatively simple grave of Saint Patrick in Northern Ireland that was being guarded by an impressive raven. I would love to visit Santiago de Compostela in Spain to visit the tomb of Saint James. Why go on holiday and just bake on a beach when you can enhance your Christian faith by seeing that these heroes of faith were real people? They battled for Jesus and heroically died for their faith. As far as God is concerned, they are still alive They will intercede for us in heaven, we just have to think about them and ask them in prayer.

Proverbs 10

The book of Proverbs often mentions wisdom. God had bestowed Solomon with more wisdom than anyone else on the planet but Solomon still messed up his life – through being seduced by his hundreds of foreign wives to worship their deities.

Before his fall from grace, his temporarily righteous mouth did bring forth wisdom (v.1)

The mouth of the wicked knows only what is perverse. We may have strange thoughts pop into our minds during the day. Lewd jokes or scurrilous gossip. We should bat these thoughts away in the name of Jesus as they only take on a life of their own when we actually vocalise them. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can know what is fitting to say.

God hates people who cheat others (11:1). We should be guided by our integrity.

Our wealth will be no use to us when faced with death or the end of the world. We will only be rescued by righteousness, which we have obtained through the precious blood of Christ. This righteousness makes a straight way for us and delivers us from death and decay. Christ’s righteousness will rescue us from trouble. Our hope does not perish when we die, we hope for everlasting life through the mercy of God because of our belief in his son, Jesus.

Image: Ottavio Vannini (1585-c. 1643), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fire from the Lord and the Baptism of Jesus: March 20th 2021

Numbers 9:15-11:3

At God’s command, the Israelites set out and at his command, they encamped. It’s wonderful for whole nation to follow God’s directions on a daily basis. When God indicated it was time to move, they moved. Do we tune into God every morning to find out his plan for our day?

The Israelites never knew when God’s cloud would lift over the Tent of Testimony indicating it was time to leave. So the Israelites could never afford the luxury of getting too comfortable or burdening themselves with too many possessions – even when the cloud stayed over the tent for a whole year. God kept them on their toes ready to become mobile.

God instructed that the priests should sound a blast on the trumpets whenever the Israelites were going into battle (v.9). God would then remember and rescue them. So we need to pray to God, make a loud noise and attract his attention through prayer whenever we are ‘going into battle’. I tried to learn the trumpet recently but didn’t really get to grips with it. I am now learning the saxophone instead, which is endlessly amusing. I must remember to tell God I am not calling on him for assistance whenever I practice the saxophone. I am not actually in distress – it just sounds like I am.

The tabernacle was to be set up before the holy things arrived (v.21). This shows God’s practical love of organisation and good order and the respect that was to be shown to the articles that were dedicated to Him.

Moses pleaded with his father-in-law (Reuel / Jethro) not to leave him and promised him a share of ‘whatever good things the Lord gives us’ (v. 31-32). Reul is valued for his local knowledge of where to camp. Moses wanted him to be ‘their eyes’. Reul is from the land of Midian and is not an Israelite. This looks promising for future harmony between the nations and makes us appreciate our own in-laws. Reul was an important man in Midianite society – both a prince and a priest. The Midianites didn’t worship God alone, which implies we can ask for help from people from other backgrounds / religions. We can work as partners on Godly projects and be grateful for their help and practical assistance Unfortunately, the relationship between the Israelites and the rest of the Midianites completely breaks down by Numbers 31 and there is an enormous battle between the nations.

The Israelites made the Lord angry by complaining and ‘fire from the Lord burned among them‘ (11:1). The Israelites weren’t enjoying unpredictably packing up and trudging through the desert with their belongings. They weren’t enjoying simple obedience even though their needs were all being taken care of. My family aren’t a great fan of camping either. We have a huge tent in the loft, which we have used once and will shortly be selling on eBay. It would have been easier and less burdensome to travel through the desert if an Israelite family had minimised the possessions they were carrying. So if a family had donated all their heavy gold to furnish the Tabernacle, they wouldn’t have to carry it now. The people cry to Moses for help. He intercedes for them and the fire dies down. It is always best not to complain to God. We can remind him of his promises but He is due our gratitude for guiding, protecting and feeding us on a daily basis.

Disciplining the Israelites through terrors such as fire and plagues doesn’t work in the end, Even though the Israelites are often punished for disobedience, it didn’t make them love God. They steadfastly refuse to enter the Promised Land when they get there and God wants to kill them all. Gradually God realises that threats and punishments don’t work. His ultimate goal is for people to love him by their own volition and for this he has to just show them his loving side through the public ministry of Jesus.

God can ‘kill’ anyone he likes because he created us and owns us and when we are ‘killed’ by God, we are just moved from place to place. Our immortal souls are still alive eternally in God’ eyes – for ‘all are alive to God’ (Luke 20:38). There is a striking difference between the behaviour of God, the Father, in the Old Testament (who frequently struck people with lethal floods, plagues and fire) and Jesus, the Son, in the New Testament. We will explore this in a separate post.

Luke 3:1-22

John was inspired to start his ministry, ‘preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (v.2). Luke, with his scientific background, accurately documented when in history this took place. It actually happened. The historical evidence for the gospels makes atheism an untenable position. John the Baptist and Jesus were actual historical figures carrying out their ministry at a defined time. Multiple eye-witnesses and independent historians confirming they existed. Jesus proved he was the Son of God through the miracles he performed – which were witnessed by thousands of people. It is thus completely illogical to deny the existence of God. We clearly see the ‘Spirit of Unbelief’ working in other areas at present. A significant number of people believe that coronavirus / covid 19 is not a thing even though scientists have proven its existence, hundreds of thousands of people have died and new vaccines work against it. Unbelief is a choice but once you have persisted in illogical unbelief for long enough, you give ‘a spirit of unbelief’ a legal right to take up residence making it even harder for you to turn to the truth.

People sensed that they needed what John was offering even though he was a colourful character and spoke his mind, ‘You brood of vipers!’ (v. 7). I am sure he said this in a loving way but it isn’t the way we treat new visitors to a church these days.

John the Baptist gave some simple practical advice on how to live a virtuous life: share your possessions and food; don’t defraud people; don’t be a false witness or extort money and be content with what you have without lusting for more.

Just being descended from a great friend of God, Abraham, would not help the people unless they repented through faith and produced ‘fruit in keeping with repentance‘ v.8). We should act honestly, be generous and live contentedly. Jesus would come to ‘baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire(v.16).

Speaking the truth can make powerful people your enemies. John’s ministry was cut short by Herod after John rebuked him for his adultery and for ‘all the other evil things he had done’ (v.19).

Jesus was baptized – ‘and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove‘ (v.22). Baptism is necessary for Christians to enter heaven. It gives us a supernatural life as an adopted child of God. We receive an indelible stamp on our soul from being baptized that shows we are part of the family of God. It’s strange that Protestants can be much more strict and ‘religious’ about baptism that Catholics. Many denominations insist that a baptism has to involve full immersion under the water to be ‘valid’ when of course, the desire to be baptised and the ‘Spirit’ by which it is carried out are the important elements. It’s great if a baptism can be full immersion but it’s not always practical. Even when people aim for full immersion they often use baths in people’s houses and there are always elbows or knees sticking out of the water. Not even the most litigious demon is going to stand at the gate of heaven and argue that someone can’t go in because their elbow didn’t go under the water. All Christian baptisms – even those with just a sprinkling of water are fully valid as long as the person carrying out the baptism pronounces the words: ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. When it comes to eternal life, I am not taking any chances and so I have enthusiastically embraced baptism, confirmation, ‘baptism in the spirit’ and faithfully prayed the ‘sinner prayer’ to be ‘born again’. I feel that the Holy Spirit only really started to work within me to cut unholy things out of my life after I started to spend longer periods ‘praying in the Spirit’. Allowing the Holy Spirit more access to my life, allowed him to progress with His work of sanctification (making me holier ready for heaven). Baptism is a massive topic, which we concentrate on in a separate article

God confirmed that Jesus was his Son, with whom he was well pleased. I love the Hillsong Worship song, which allows us, due to Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross and our own baptism to shout: ‘I’m a child of God. Yes I am!‘.

Psalms 35:19-28

People often devise false accusations against those who live quietly (v.20). They can actively gossip and plot against people who are minding their own business. We should always avoid gossip.

People either make up slanderous stories or look out for wrong and delight when they think they have found it, ‘Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it’ (v.21) Tragically, there is a lot of accusatory behaviour amongst Christians. I have read blogs where writers heavily criticise other Christians for practicing in a different way from them, using a different Bible translation from them or even enjoying their lives and making jokes. Pope Francis calls us all to be ‘joy-filled evangelists’ and that does include a healthy sense of humour. Anyone who is a Christian is our sister and brother. A sign of the Holy Spirit is being ‘ecumenical’ (delighting in the company and teaching of all other Christians). Evil spirits delight in trying to split Christians into different factions and there are evil spirits named ‘anti-Catholicism’ or ‘Sectarianism’. If you have an aversion to any other Christian denomination, you need to bind up the spirit that might be contributing to your feelings in Jesus’ name and pray for God’s forgiveness, renouncing and repenting your behaviour, ‘for whoever is not against us is for us’ (Mark 9:40).

Jesus taught us to pray for blessings for our enemies. Interesting that David, a man after God’s own heart, often prayed for harm to come to his enemies; that they may be ‘put to shame and confusion’ or ‘clothed with shame and disgrace’ (v.26).

We can leave righteous justice to the Lord and proclaim to the world everyday how great and good He is.

Awake, and rise to my defence. Contend for me, O Lord

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