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).

Balaam’s Donkey / Building on Rock: 27th March 2021

Numbers 22:21-23:26

Balaam saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. God was very angry, even though He had told Balaam to go with them (22:20). An angel stood in his way to block him, because his path ‘is a reckless one before me’ (v.32). Maybe God thought Balaam was still just pursuing a large payment for his services and can’t be trusted to listen to God’s advice. This reminds me of when God met Moses at a lodging place on the way back to Egypt (Exodus 4:24) and ‘was about to kill him‘ even though God had just told Moses to return to Egypt. Moses is saved by his wife, Zipporah, carrying out an emergency circumcision on their baby boy and furiously flinging the bloody foreskin onto Moses feet, ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me’ (Exod. 4:25). Moses is saved by the spilled blood. This is a very strange story.

Moses had been chosen by God to be the leader of the currently enslaved Israelite nation, yet had failed to carry out the most important act of the Old Testament Blood Covenant – circumcising his son. From his wife’s fury, we can guess that she was the one who had refused to have their son circumcised but Moses had been weak, failing to insist that it must be carried out. Zipporah only relented when Moses was about to be killed. Even more disturbingly, is that if you believe that all actual physical encounters with ‘the Lord’ in the Old Testament are actually with Jesus (known as Christophanies) – as he is the only incarnate person of the Trinity and no-one can see God without dying – this would have been Jesus ‘about to kill Moses’ (4:24), who then lets ‘him alone’ (Exodus 4:26) only after his son’s blood touches Moses’ feet. Moses is spared and forgiven through the shedding of blood, just as we are justified and made righteous through the shedding of Jesus’ precious blood on the cross.

So, in summary we have Jesus arriving as an assassin to kill Moses because he wasn’t fit to the lead the Israelites, having failed to have his son circumcised. However, it is easy to forget about the time travelling abilities of God. God can move around time and knows the past, present and future. So God knew that if Moses was threatened with death, Zipporah would finally relent to having her son circumcised and Moses wouldn’t be killed. God knows the future and the choices people will make under pressure. It just shows how radical God is prepared to get in order to make people obey some foundational rules. We know today that a basic requirement to get into heaven is to be baptized. The indelible supernatural stamp you receive on your soul from baptism is like a passport with a valid visa allowing you entry into a country. If someone has refused to become baptized, when they have been told this fact, God may start doing some radical things in their life to get them to comply.

Amazing stories like this demonstrate the truth of the Bible. People haven’t just included the easy, ‘God is love’ stories. They have included the hard to digest, tough-love stories. Moses wrote the first five books of this Bible and he doesn’t hold being nearly killed by God against Him in any way. So Exodus chapter 4 is basically Moses saying, ‘Yes, God was about to kill me, but he didn’t. I deserved it, because my wife and I failed to respect his covenant. Nothing to see here, let’s move on with the story’.

It’s very similar to Abraham very nearly sacrificing his son Isaac in Genesis 22. These days, if we heard a voice in our heads saying, ‘Sacrifice your family as a burnt offering‘, we can reply, ‘It is written, thou shalt not kill. Get behind me, Satan.’ However, Abraham was sure it was actually God that had given him the instruction to slay his beloved son. Maybe the command had come from Jesus, if God had actually appeared to Abraham in physical form. Abraham was so full of faith that he was actually going to kill Isaac. Yet, God knew he was going to be stopped at the very last minute and no-one was going to die.

God sent an angel to oppose Balaam and it stood in the road. The donkey that Balaam was riding tried to avoid the angel repeatedly – despite being beaten for its troubles – and eventually lay down and refused to move. We then have the fascinating line, ‘The Lord opened the donkey’s mouth’ (v.28) and she started to speak. We learn from this that: animals can potentially talk (however, God has closed their mouths so they normally don’t); they can see angels when we can’t; they can try to save us through their actions; they have a memory, a sense of belonging to someone and a sense of justice, ‘Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?’ (v.30). Presumably God let all the animals in the garden of Eden talk (hence Eve’s conversation with the serpent wasn’t considered unusual) and perhaps they were all still talking on Noah’s ark up until the flood receded and the fear and dread of humans fell upon them (Genesis 9:2). This should make us treat the creatures in our lives with even more respect. If God opens their mouths, what are they going to say about us? I hope the birds in the garden will testify on my behalf, ‘He spent an awful lot on peanuts’.

Eventually, the Lord opens Balaam’s eyes so he can see the angel too (v.31). This means that there is a gift of seeing / discerning spirits that God can turn on and off in us as he pleases. We can pray to the Holy Spirit to be given this gift as it is both useful and fascinating. The evangelist, Ros Powell, https://www.rospowell.com/, told me how she was once at a Christian conference in Blackpool queueing up to receive prayer ministry and she could see a demonic spirit attached to a pretty girl in a line of people parallel to hers. The spirit was giving off clouds of scent / pheromones which made every woman that walked past gravitate towards this girl. Ros said this was fascinating to watch. It wasn’t Ros’s conference so she couldn’t march over and offer to deliver the girl. She left it to the designated prayer leaders. However, later in the week, Ros, accompanied by her husband, decided to go on a trip into town for lunch and this same girl got on the bus (with the same demonic spirit still attached to her). She was, of course, accompanied by a female friend. Ros was ‘on holiday’ but prayed to the Lord ‘If you want me to do something, you will have to show me a sign.‘ Eventually, Ros and her husband reached their destination and got off at the bus stop in the centre of Blackpool only for the demonised girl and her friend to get up and follow them. Ros felt she was directed to go up to the girl in the bus stop, explain what she could see and ask if the girl wanted God to deliver her from it. The girl willingly agreed. She must have sensed that something was amiss which is why she had attended the conference. Ros prayed for deliverance while they were all still standing in the Blackpool bus stop and the spirit detached itself and left. . The gift of spiritual discernment is a powerful weapon for the urban prayer warrior.

The angel was going to kill Balaam if he had continued – and spare the innocent donkey – but Balaam apologises and offer to go back home. The angel confirms he can continues but can only say what he is told to say.

Perhaps Balaam had started to brag to the Moabite princes about what he was capable to doing to the Israelites and needed clear guidance that he ‘must speak only what God puts in his mouth’ (Numbers 22:38).

Balaam and Balak built seven altars for sacrifices of bulls and rams and twice Balaam met with God and delivered God’s messages back to Balak. Balaam confirms the Israelites cannot be cursed, as God has not cursed them (23:8) and that ‘There is no sorcery against Jacob, no divination against Israel’ (23:23). Balak’s plot has been completely foiled. He has brought Balaam to curse the Israelites who, at Gods command, continues to bless them. Employing Balaam has damaged his plan to defeat the Israelites and now he desperately wants Balaam to shut up before even more blessings are imparted to them, ‘Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!’ (23:25).

We can all learn the lesson that if we plan evil against righteous people it can harm us more than it harms them.

Luke 6:37-7:10

Here we have important lessons on not judging (or condemning). If we forgive, we will be forgiven (v.37). We should generously give and ‘it will be given back to you’ (v.38). There is the warning against a blind man leading a blind man (v.39-40) and a warning not to be hypocrites (v. 41-42).

Recognise a good tree by it’s good fruit, ‘The Good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart’ (v.45). I pray that this blog is populated by the overflow of good stories and reflections that have built up in my heart as I have attentively listed to dozens of teachers from a multitude of denominations over the years,

We should lay our foundation on rock like the wise builder (6:48). We can take this as basing our lives on the words and commands of Jesus and we have to put his teachings into practice. As Peter (the rock) was the first Pope I base my life on the 2,000 years of sound foundational teaching curated by the Catholic church, which will keep me safe when floods come. I am under the church’s authority, which gives my reflections validity. If the church points out any errors, I will apologise and correct them accordingly. The Centurion recognised, from his own experience of being under authority, the valid power that Jesus possessed.

The gentile Centurion demonstrated great faith, ‘But say the word, and my servant will be healed’ (7:7). The elders pleaded with Jesus asking him to help because the Centurion had given to the Israelites. He loved them and had built a synagogue (v.5). This goes back to 6:38 ‘Give, and it will be given back to you’. The Centurion could not have predicted that when he freely gave to build a synagogue, his generosity would later help persuade the Son of God to give him back the priceless life of his valued servant.

Psalm 37:32-40

‘The wicked lie in wait for the righteous’ (v.32). If you are a Christian in a modern secular workplace, you will be surrounded by wicked people, probably even your own boss, who will be looking for any opportunity to persecute you. However, the Lord will not leave us in their control ‘or let them be condemned when brought to trial(v.33).

Many wicked and ruthless managers get shifted around or promoted from job to job ‘flourishing like a green tree in its native soil (v.35) and so we usually just have to be patient for their future to be cut off, ‘he soon passed away and was no more’ (v.36). ‘All sinners will be destroyed’ (v.38).

God will be our stronghold in times of trouble while we wait for his deliverance, because we take refuge in him. ‘The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord’ (v.39).

Picture: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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