Jesus brings a child back to life: April 1st 2021

Numbers 31:25-32:42

The spoils from the battle with the Midianites were divided between the soldiers and community. Tributes from each portion were given to the Lord. It’s amazing how frequently God gave detailed advice to Moses to help rule the fledgling nation. Not a single Israelite soldier had been lost in the battle (v.49). The commanders of the army were so amazed by this that they donated the gold they had acquired to Moses and Eleazer (the priest) ‘to make atonement’ for themselves (v.50).

The Reubenites and Gadites wanted to stay in the newly conquered territory, Gilead – on the wrong side of the Jordan river, with their livestock and not cross to the promised land. Moses wasn’t impressed with this idea and reminded them about the last forty years wandering in the desert after the spies had discouraged the Israelites from crossing the Jordan. The Reubenites and Gadites negotiated and promised to help the rest of the Israelites conquer the promised land first before they then returned to their wives and children. Before helping, they wanted to ‘build pens here for their livestock and cities for our woman and children (v.16). This sounds like quite a long endeavour but Moses allowed this compromise. They could obviously build cities in less than the time it would take us to get planning permission. However, there were already cities in the area that they had conquered (v.33) and so it was more of a refurbishment / fortification project rather than a completely new build (v.34-38).

Luke 8:40-9:9

Jesus felt power go out of him (v.46) as the woman with the haemorrhage touched him. This lady demonstrated the difference between belief and faith. Many people believed that Jesus could heal people. But this lady’s faith was a blend of belief with action. Her faith told her that if she touched the edge of Jesus’ cloak, she would be healed. Faith often involves the risk of looking foolish if nothing happens. We have to step out and take the risk. If she hadn’t been healed, she would have fought to touch his cloak for no result. God responds to faith, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace’ (v.48).

There is a classic joke that illustrates the difference between belief and faith:

A man falls off a very high cliff. Halfway down, he manages to grab a branch sticking out from the cliff and is left swinging there. He has temporarily saved himself from certain death but needs to be rescued.

He thinks to himself: ‘I believe in God. I will pray to him to rescue me.’

He prays and God immediately responds.

A loud voice comes from heaven, ‘Let go of the branch and I will catch you. Have faith’.

The man responds, ‘Is anyone else there?’

To demonstrate faith, we actually have to step out and do something that could put us at risk. We can’t just sit back expecting God to do all the work for us. We have to participate.

‘For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved’ (Romans 10:10).

Jesus felt something physical when the lady’s healing occurred. When we pray over someone for healing, it is wonderful when we feel something ourselves – perhaps a supernatural sensation of warmth. However, all prayers to God are answered in time and so we don’t actually need a physical manifestation to confirm that some type of healing has or will occur.

Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter. He only took three close disciples and the little girl’s parents into the room with him as witnesses to her resurrection. He had already faced ridicule from the crowd by declaring she was only asleep and so Jesus had publicly ‘put his money where his mouth is’. If the little girl didn’t come back to life, Jesus’ ministry would have been disgraced but he had total faith in the Father and the Holy Spirit and knew the miracle would take place. Jesus gives the command and ‘her spirit returned’ (v.55). Just as Jesus will give the command at the end of time and our spirits will return to our bodies to instantly animate our glorified, resurrected bodies.

Jesus sent out the Twelve on a preaching / healing and deliverance mission (9:2) This would have included Judas. It’s shocking that someone so close to Jesus, trusted with power and authority and successfully carrying miracles in his name could still betray him. It took faith to head out with no bag, spare clothes, money or food. Just being close to Jesus and carrying out his work does not mean we are saved. We have to allow God to place a new faithful heart inside us and accept Jesus fully into our lives as our Lord and Saviour, once we have renounced and repented of our sins

Psalm 40:1-8

God has often ‘lifted me out of the slimy pit’ (v.2). From the slimy pit of unbelief to the slimy pit of unfulfilling secular work, I have been rescued ‘out of the mud and the mire’ (v.2). ‘He set my feet on a rock (Jesus) and gave me a firm place to stand (v.2).

It’s my ambition for many to ‘see and fear and put their trust in the Lord (v.3).

I do have a new song of praise in my mouth (v.3) particularly when I sing in the Spirit.

We can’t trust proud secular leaders puffed up with their own importance, ‘those who turn away to false Gods (v.4). We are blessed by trusting in the Lord.

He doesn’t want sacrifice or offerings from us. Jesus has already given Him the ultimate sacrifice, once and for all. God just wants our love and for us to to ‘desire to do your will’ (v.8). God has written his law within all our hearts, which is why non-believers still do great acts of justice and charity, even though they refuse to acknowledge where their inbuilt social conscience has come from.

God has planned many wonderful things for us to do in this lifetime. We just have to listen to him and then cooperate.

Picture: Eduard Bendemann, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pledges / Vengeance and the Exorcism of Legion: March 31st 2021

Numbers 29:12-31:24

This lists the complicated list of sacrifices required for each day of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Chapter 30 concerns vows. When a man makes a vow to the Lord or ‘binds himself with a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said’ (30:2).

Similarly, if a young woman makes a vow and her father does not nullify it, or, when she gets married, her husband says nothing to her about it, then her vows and pledges ‘by which she bound herself will stand’ (v.5).

I think this is what happened to the Virgin Mary. According to legends / non-canonical texts she was dedicated to the temple and lived there between the ages of 3 and 12. She had made a vow to be a Holy Virgin for her whole life, dedicated to God. Being a virgin was her job and vocation. ‘How can this be since I am a virgin?’ (Luke 1:34).

The priests in the temple arranged for Mary to be looked after by the elderly widower, Joseph, as soon as she reached puberty. He respected her vow of chastity and did not nullify it as her husband. Mary remained a virgin for her own life.

In Chapter 31, the Lord told Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites. The Israelites killed every man including the colourful character, Balaam. Here we find evidence as to why Balaam is so unpopular when later mentioned in the New Testament. He was a sorcerer, paid for his divinations, curses and blessings. He was able to hear from God but he did not worship God alone, He was instrumental in the Israelites starting to worship demonic entities after the Moabite women had seduced them at Peor. Only the virgin Midianite women were allowed to live. This seems harsh by today’s standards but this was a matter of life and death. The survival of the entire nation was at stake. Moses could not risk the Israelite men being seduced into worshipping other Gods again because this would result in another plague at the very least. God would be justified in destroying all the Israelites if they were seduced away from him again.

Because the Midianites worshipped demonic entities, all the bounty that the Israelites had captured had to be cleansed before it could be brought into the camp. Anything that could go through fire was put through it but it ‘must also be purified with the water of cleansing’ (v.23). See Numbers 19 for details about the ‘water of cleansing’. Demonic spirits can attach themselves to objects either by their own will or by spells / curses. It is very unwise to bring back souvenirs from different cultures such as African masks and display them in your house as havoc might ensue. You can even buy ‘cursed dolls’ on Ebay, which have one of more evil spirits attached to them.

Be very careful about what you introduce to your home. The Holy Spirit can give people knowledge about which articles in their house may have been cursed and need to be disposed of. Amorth gives practical advice on how to dispose of cursed objects, They should never be flushed down the toilet as this can cause all the drains in the house to block. The traditional method of disposal is to sprinkle them with holy water – which can be obtained from any Catholic church – and then the item must be burnt (it is very important that prayers are said while the object is burned to protect against spiritual backlash) and then the ashes are thrown into running water – the sea or a river. Then pray to God for forgiveness for having introduced such an object to your home.

Luke 8:19-20

Here we have a reference to ‘Jesus’ mother and brothers’ (v.19). Everyone who is born again is a brother or sister of Jesus.

It is a long-held Christian tradition that the ‘brothers’ mentioned in verse 19 are relatives of Jesus but born to another Mary (Mary the wife of Cleopas (see John 19:25)). The Eastern church has an even simpler explanation that these were children from Joseph’s previous marriage (he was an elderly widower when he married Mary). So they neither have the same mother as Jesus (Mary) nor the same father (God / The Holy Spirit). If they were actual sons of Mary, they would have taken Mary in after Jesus died on the cross rather than ‘the disciple whom he loved’ (John 19:26-27).

Jesus calmed the storm (v:22-25). ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his (frightened disciples)’ (v.25). Looking back over the last year of Covid lockdowns, I think my wife’s and my faith has kept us remarkably calm. We have taken sensible precautions as we are scientists as well as believers. However, we have still risked frequent exposure to the virus as we gathered provisions for elderly people. I wouldn’t have wanted to face a global pandemic without having God to pray and put my trust in.

Our Pastor tells an amazing story of a church situated in an area, which was forecasted to be hit by a tsunami. The local pastor urged his parishioners to flock into the church and lock the doors. The pastor stood on the porch outside and prayed that they would not be harmed. When the tsunami arrived it wiped out the town, except it split and went around the church. The pastor reported that the tsunami looked like a cobra’s head as it reared up over the town. All the Christians in the church were unscathed. In the face of natural disasters, show the people around you your faith.

In verse 27, we find out that the storm in the lake may have not been such a ‘natural’ hazard. Jesus was met by a demon-possessed man as soon as he stepped ashore. Jesus performed his most spectacular exorcism, allowing a legion of exorcised demons to enter a herd of pigs who then rush down a steep bank and drown themselves in the lake.

This makes me suspect that the storm on the lake was whipped up by demonic spirits, who had seen that Jesus was en route to exorcise Legion and tried to drown him and his disciples before he got there. Exorcists find that they are often attacked during a journey to an exorcism with cars or aircraft breaking down or engines going on fire. Amorth reports a demonic plot to overturn a carriage containing an exorcist was foiled when the carriage driver was given a blessed medal of Saint Benedict to carry. I never travel without one. This isn’t superstition or idol worship – it’s what the church calls a ‘sacramental’. When I pick up a blessed medal of St. Benedict, I am calling down the protection of God through the intercession of St. Benedict.

The fact that there was a herd of pigs next to the lake indicates that the people living in this region were not Jews. No Jewish farmer can keep pigs as God declared them unclean (Lev. 11:7-8). So Jesus has basically gone onto an exorcism excursion into the land of the Gentiles. The poor possessed man ‘had been driven by the demon into solitary places’ (8:29). The demons didn’t want him to meet an exorcist before he died and certainly not Jesus, the chief exorcist.

Sending the demons into ‘unclean’ pigs, who were then destroyed, shows that salvation comes from the Jews and we, as Gentiles, should recognise the superiority of the Jewish law over our historical, heathen practices. The swineherds weren’t being very sensitive to their Jewish neighbours by keeping massive herds of pigs next to Jewish territory. Jesus may have thought it was highly appropriate sending ‘unclean spirits’ into ‘unclean animals’. Demons can possess animals as well as people but people are first choice as a demon’s key aim is to stop us turning to God with faith and accepting His priceless offer of eternal life. God loves animals but demonstrated that saving one human life is worth thousands of animals. We are all uniquely precious to God.

The demons begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them ‘into the Abyss’ (v.31). Demons are terrified of being sent down into hell to await the end of time as they will suffer for ever and can never receive forgiveness.

The man, who had been exorcised, longed to go with Jesus but he is sent back to his own town as the first travelling disciple to the Gentiles. Jesus knows where each disciple can do his best work. This is long before Peter converts Cornelius in Acts 9-10 and Paul starts his travels as apostle to the gentiles. Maybe some of the Gentiles that the exorcised man spoke to travelled back across the lake and tracked down Jesus seeking their own healing and deliverance.

In other gospels, the area is describe as Gadara with the pigs called the ‘Gadarene swine’. From this comes the adjective ‘Gadarene’ describing a headlong rush. For example, ‘Today, there was an unwise Gadarene stampede to the hairdresser as soon as Covid lockdown ended’.

Psalm 39:1-3

King David kept his tongue from sin ‘as long as the wicked are in my presence’ (39:1). Any type of leader, pastor or even a lay Christian is constantly under minute scrutiny from the wicked to see if they slip up and reveal themselves to be hypocrites. We have to be on our guard as to what we say and do. However, when he stopped speaking completely ‘not even saying anything good’ (v.2), he found his anguish increased. We need to keep talking to God.

David reflects on how short our life is and how pointless piling up wealth is just for someone else to inherit it. As soon as I had calculated that God had delivered sufficient funds into my pension pot I retired from my secular job. There was no point heaping up extra riches; my children are more than capable of looking after themselves. Our lives are so fleeting, we need to dump secular concerns as soon as we can and get on with the work of God. Covid lockdown taught me how little money we need to live happily and how worthless most possessions are.

God will ‘rebuke and discipline men for their sin’ (v.11) but each time he does this, we can withstand it more easily and come out happier and healthier each time. I was last rebuked and disciplined for becoming too lazy in my Catholic faith. I was attending a church where the power of the Holy Spirit was not being displayed. I could see no miracles or healings taking place. God allowed me to become ill and to be attacked by the wicked. In desperation for spiritual help, I met local Pentecostals and, under their joyful care, God healed me, instructed me and strengthened me in order to bring back more of the good news to my Catholic brethren. I have had several major trials from God, the first two nearly killed me but the last one I stormed through, keeping both my sanity and my sense of humour, because I handed myself over to God for him to sort everything out. Praise be to God for my salvation.

Picture: Katolophyromai, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Moses appoints Joshua / Parable of the Sower: March 30th 2021

Numbers 27:12-29:11

The Lord instructed Moses to ascend a mountain, to view from afar the land that had been given to the Israelites. Moses was destined to die there because of his earlier disobedience (Numbers 20:9-12).

Moses didn’t plead with God for an even longer life but asked for God to provide a new leader ‘so that the Lord’s people will not be like a sheep without a shepherd’ (27:17). It’s wonderful that Moses’ concern was not for himself but for the Israelites to have a worthy leader as his successor. God has lined up Moses’ assistant Joshua ‘a man in whom is the Spirit (v.18) to become leader. It was quite rare in the Old Testament for the Holy Spirit to be in someone permanently. Normally, the Spirit came to rest on someone temporarily for a specific purpose / prophesy. These days, all baptized Christians can benefit from the priceless help and comfort of the Holy Spirit inside them permanently. We just have to invite him to come into our lives fully, giving us all his gifts and fully ignite our faith.

Ministry was passed on by the laying on of hands (v.18 and v.23). Moses was instructed to officially ordain Joshua in front of the entire assembly so everyone was clear about the identity of the authorised leader. It was extremely important to appoint a spiritual man to such an important role. His decision making would mean either prosperity or disaster for the entire Israelite nation.

Joshua would have help making decisions in that he could ask the priest to consult the mysterious ‘Urim’ (v.21). The Urim was a supernatural object which allowed God to communicate decisions. The Urim usually went together with the Thummim (see Exodus 20:30) and resided in the ceremonial breast piece worn by the Chief Priest. It may possibly have been a way of casting lots, or the priest might have looked through it to see a vision / answer. Either way, it is lost now – judging by the quality of many world leaders’ decisions (https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function). Maybe they were destroyed or reside in Ethiopia with the Ark of the Covenant. One suggestion is that these objects only functioned when the early Israelite priests had the Holy Spirit residing in them. Later on, the Holy Spirit withdrew from the priests and gave temporary power to certain prophets by resting on them. God doesn’t like to make things too easy. He created multiple languages after Babel in Genesis (Genesis 11:7) so we couldn’t understand each other and could possibly have removed the Urim and Thummin to make us pray to him as individuals for advice rather than letting a priest find out from God what our decisions should be.

The rest of today’s reading covers the complicated list of offerings required daily, monthly, on the Sabbath day and on specific feast days. As Christians, these don’t apply to us but it is fascinating to see how specific God was for each occasion.

Luke 8:1-18

Jesus travelled from place to place. We hear about ‘Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out’ (v.2). When multiple demons infest someone they will obey the most senior / powerful demon present, who may prevent the lower powered demons from leaving during an exorcism. There is a power hierarchy for the nine different choirs of angels / demons with the seraphim at the top and ordinary angels at the bottom. Jesus, as the Chief Exorcist, had the authority to bind and cast out the most senior demon in Mary, along with all the others (see Matthew 12:29 – ‘How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house’).

Jesus and his disciples had financial support from women who had been cured of diseases and exorcised (v.3). It’s significant that Joanna was the wife of the manager of King Herod’s household. This Herod’s full name was Herod Antipas and he was the son of ‘Herod the Great’ who had attempted to murder baby Jesus. Joanna was a member of the upper class of Jewish society and if she was subsidised by her husband’s wages, Jesus would have been indirectly using money from the King for his ministry. Joanna may have contracted a serious diseases or demonic oppression because her husband worked for the evil King. She turned to Jesus for her cure.

We then have the famous parable of the sower. When my children were growing up, I can really relate to ‘the seed that fell among thorns’. This signifies those who hear but ‘as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature’ (v.14). It has only been after my children grew up and started to do their own thing that I started to feel I could begin to produce a crop through perseverance. So the different types of soil may represent different stages of our lives. I might cycle through the different examples that Jesus gives us weekly or daily. I may go to church on one Sunday as ‘good soil’ and hear the word and retain it. The very next week, I might be distracted by worldly cares and then I am thorny ground. The place we don’t want to be is the path, which is where most people are. We must believe and be saved. Do not let the devil take away the joyful gospel from your hearts. Believe and be saved.

After we receive the Holy Spirit at our baptism, we should shine his light to everyone through the joyful and charitable way we lead our lives. We must be lights for all the world. When we have the Holy Spirit, we will be given more of his gifts and wisdom if we ask God for it. If people reject coming to Christ in baptism and live an empty, superficial life without searching for God, ‘even what he thinks he has will be taken from him (v.18).

Psalm 38:13-22

King David show us that no matter how we are feeling we can be confident that God will eventually answer us (v.15).

We can be surrounded by hostile, evil people who ‘repay by good with evil’ (v.20). Many Christians find they are slandered by friends, family and acquaintances just for trying to follow the Christian faith. They ‘slander me when I pursue what is good’ (v.20).

We know that if we confess our sins and believe in Him, God will not be far from us. Praying in tongues demonstrates that God is actually within us at all times. The Holy Spirit is always there to help us, we just have to hand over control to Him and He will build us up to confound our enemies.

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