The Fall of Jerusalem / God’s Wrath against Mankind: July 13th 2021

2 Kings 24:8-25:30

King Jehoiachin succeeded his father, Jehoiakim. The people of Judah seemed to have run out of inspiration for first names at this stage but they all have meanings. Jehoiachin Is Hebrew for ‘The Lord Establishes’ which is ironic considering what is going to happen to him.    

This new king only reigned for 3 months and all of that was bad. The king of Babylon’s army advanced on Jerusalem and besieged it. The formidable Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, actually came to watch the siege. The leaders of Judah had no choice but to surrender the city to him.

Nebuchadnezzar removed all the remaining treasures from the temple and the royal palace. He carried into exile virtually everyone from Jerusalem, including the local army, leaving just the poorest people behind who would now be ruled by Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah. Nebuchadnezzar renamed him Zedekiah, king of Judah.

Zedekiah did not turn to God and unwisely rebelled against Babylon. He must have recruited a new army from the land of Judah as the Babylonians had to lay siege to the city again. Eventually, the famine within the city walls was so bad that the army within Jerusalem broke out through their own walls and fled. Zedekiah was captured and terribly punished.

Jerusalem would now be destroyed. The commander of the Babylonian imperial guard set fire to every building, including the temple and the royal palace, the walls of the city were broken down and everyone was taken into exile apart from the very poorest people who were to work the vineyards and fields.

The Babylonians destroyed the magnificent bronze articles that Solomon had commissioned for the temple. All the top Jerusalem officials, including the chief priest, were executed.

Judah went into captivity, away from her land – following the example of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) who has been exiled by the Assyrians a couple of centuries before.

Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah to supervise the remnant of people left in Judah. He tried to get the people to settle down and serve the king but he was assassinated, which caused all the people people to flee to Egypt.

The former king of Judah, Jehoiachin, was released from prison after thirty-seven years by a new Babylonian king, Evil-Merodach, and treated kindly for the rest of his life.  

These stories highlight the problems that arise from disobedience. If the Judean kings had always followed God, their nation may have been left in its own territory. If Zedekiah had been loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, the first temple may still be intact today and what a magnificent sight it would be. However, God had to serve justice on those who had abandoned and ignored him. He used foreign nations to bring about his retribution against both Israel and Judah. However, there is always hope of rebirth and restoration.

The clock was now ticking until His people would be returned to their homeland.

Romans 1:18-32

We can clearly see the presence of God in the beauty of our created world. Yet so many people think that the world and the creatures that populate it made themselves. Paul said these people are without excuse (Rom.1:20). Everyone knows God in their hearts but people choose to suppress their innate knowledge of God and decide not to glorify or give thanks to Him. Their foolish hearts become darkened (Rom.1:21) and they choose to remain in sin.

Just as Solomon did, the wise become fools and start to worship man-made images. Many people today serve created things rather than the Creator. We work in a secular job just to pay for the car that is only required to get us to work. We go to work to pay for a larger house or a holiday, when we wouldn’t need an expensive holiday if we didn’t work (1 Rom.1:25). A day in a beautiful house of worship would regenerate us more than two weeks boozing in the sun.

God can show his wrath by abandoning us. If we reject him, he will reject us and allow us to follow our sinful desires. However, we reap what we sow and there will be consequences both now (such as divorce, murder, sexually transmitted diseases) and in eternity, for our immoral actions. Even women of the world have succumbed to sin. MacArthur (2021, 1545) notes that in most cultures women are the last to be affected by moral collapse.

If we do not spend time studying the word of God, our minds will become warped and full of wickedness (1 Rom.1:29-31).

Many people are promoted in secular workplaces for being greedy, deceitful, envious, malicious, gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, boastful, faithless, heartless and ruthless. Many modern companies celebrate these behaviours particularly if they maximise profit (Rom.1:32). These people have ‘debased’ minds that are impure and worthless.

In summary, every single person in the world knows that God exists in their heart. There is no excuse for ignoring him and not giving him thanks. People choose to ignore God so that they can carry out depraved sin and God has abandoned them to let them do this. People rationalise to try to prove to themselves and others that there is no God but by doing this they prove their own utter foolishness. They approve of others who, like them, behave in Godless ways. Birds of a feather flock together.

I often wonder why the Mother Church seems to carry out little evangelisation and this passage seems to explain why. People already know all about God in their own hearts, they just suppress it and choose a depraved lifestyle instead. The church waits for people to become convicted of their own sin, acknowledge the terrible consequences they have reaped, repent of their mistakes and come looking for God. However, I think it is still useful to preach the gospel, to prompt people to listen to the little voice inside of them that is calling them home,

Psalm 84:8-12

I would rather be an unpaid assistant in a thriving church than a chief executive in an immoral company (Ps.84:10).

Our God is our sun and our shield. He bestows favour and honour and defends us from evil.

We are blessed when we trust in the Lord.

He will withhold no good thing from those whose walk is blameless (Ps.84:11). So, if we lack anything, it is either not good for us or, before we will receive it, we need to review our lives and remove anything that is not blameless, by repenting and renouncing our wrong behaviour.

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

Josiah Cleanses Judah and Renews the Covenant / Paul writes to the Romans: July 12th 2021

2 Kings 23:1-24:7

Josiah, the King of Judah, read the newly rediscovered Book of the Law to all the people of Judah. He renewed the covenant with the Lord and all the people pledged themselves to it (2 Kings 23:3).

Josiah ordered the priests to remove all the pagan articles from the temple. They were burned outside Jerusalem. He ‘did away’ with the pagan priests. He desecrated the high places and broke down the shrines and thoroughly purged the country of other heathen worship sites. Chapter 23 is a comprehensive list of all the altars and shrines that the kings of Israel had built to vile and detestable deities. King Solomon had started the rot by building high places on the ‘Hill of Corruption’ even though he was supposedly the wisest man ever (2 Kings 23:13).

Josiah also cleaned up Samaria and Bethel in the north of the country while the people of this region had been deported to Assyria (2 Kings 23:19). The king then gave the order to all the people to celebrate the Passover, as it was written in the rediscovered Book of the Covenant. The Israelites had not celebrated Passover since the time of the Judges.

Josiah turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength – as we should do (2 Kings 23:25).

However, it was too late to turn the Lord away from his fierce anger. God was planning to remove Judah from his presence, just as he had done to Israel. He would reject His city and His temple (2 Kings 23:27).  However, at least Josiah died with a clean conscience. He had tried to make his people right with God, but we know from the Book of Romans that righteousness can never be earned by human actions.

Josiah was killed in a skirmish with the Egyptian army.

Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, was anointed king and managed to do evil in the eyes of the Lord even though he only reigned for three months. Pharoah Neco, who had killed Josiah, his father, put Jehoahaz in chains and deported him to Egypt. He appointed another one of Josiah’s sons, Eliakim / Jehoiakim, as king and demanded a hefty levy of gold and silver which Jehoiakim exacted as tax from the people of the land.

Jehoiakim reigned for eleven years and carried out evil deeds. Josiah’s sons had obviously learnt nothing from their relatively righteous father. It was now time for the end of Judah. The country was invaded by the Babylonians. Jehoiakim became the vassal of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, for three years and then unwisely rebelled. The Lord sent raiders to destroy Judah. The earlier reign of the evil King Manasseh had sealed Judah’s fate and even the reforms of Josiah had been insufficient to assuage God’s wrath. Manasseh had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood and, at this time, the Lord was not willing to forgive his evil deeds (2 Kings 24:4).

The king of Babylon took over the whole of the country (2 Kings 24:7).

Romans 1:1-17

Today, we start Paul’s letter to the Romans. He wrote this letter from Corinth around AD 56 towards the end of his third missionary journey as he was preparing to visit Jerusalem. The letter was eventually delivered by Phoebe to the Roman believers, some of whom may have been converted on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem before eventually settling in Rome.

Romans isn’t an easy read and so we will take it slowly. MacArthur describes it as the ‘preeminent doctrinal work in the New Testament’. One of its main themes is that we can’t buy our way into heaven with our good behaviour – eternal life is an unearned gift of love (grace) from God. God justifies us guilty, condemned sinners through our faith in Christ. We were made righteous in God’s eyes through the shedding of Jesus’ perfect blood when he died for us on the cross.

Paul described himself as a (willing) servant of Jesus set apart for the gospel (the good news) of God. Paul was a servant out of love and respect for his master. God had long promised us this good news throughout the holy Old Testament scriptures. Paul regarded himself as an ‘apostle’ – one who is sent. Jesus had personally commissioned him and started him on his personal mission than all the other apostles.

Jesus – in his human nature was a descendant of David. There are two genealogies in the gospels. The one in Luke 3:23 was actually the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The version in Matthew is his father Joseph’s genealogy. MacArthur (2021) points out that ‘the royal line is passed through Jesus’ legal father, and his physical descent from David is established by Mary’s lineage’. So Jesus was not descended from Solomon – who went rogue. Jesus was descended from David’s third child with Bathsheba, Nathan an older brother of Solomon. Jesus was both fully human (from Mary) and fully God (from the Holy Spirit) – so he could both die in our place and be a high priest who can relate to humankind.

https://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/library/bqa/id/184/why-does-jesus-have-two-different-genealogies-matthew-11-16-luke-323-38.htm

It was Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that proved that Jesus was the Son of God (Romans 1:4). When we are baptized, the same Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, comes to live in us so that He can also raise us to eternal life.

We, like all the Gentiles, are called to the obedience that comes through faith. Paul wanted to come to Rome so that he and the Roman Christians could be ‘mutually encouraged by each other’s faith’ (Romans 1:12). We all learn and benefit from different Christian communities coming together to worship, work, teaching and relaxation.

Paul was never ashamed of the gospel: ‘It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ (Rom.1:16). The gospel revealed that we can be made righteous with God through our faith in his son, Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. This is an undeserved gift that we cannot earn. It is beyond price.

Psalm 84:1-7

As Christians, we know that we are not yet in our ‘forever home’. We are alien visitors to this worldly planet, a completely new species and never quite feel at home. We long to see the living God in his dwelling-place (Ps.84:1). We have an unquenched spiritual hunger for God.

Blessed are the saints who have already made it to heaven and are waiting to intercede on our behalf. They are for ever praising God (Ps.84:4).

When we ask Jesus into our hearts as our personal saviour, we are starting on our pilgrimage back home to God. We will go from strength to strength because our strength is in Jesus, the Creator of the world. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is forever within the baptized. He refreshes us and enkindles his fire within us so we can be renewed and burst forth with power.

Image: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/st-paul-saint-iconography-painting-2176669/

An Angel Slays the Assyrians / Hezekiah’s illness / Paul on Malta (Melita): July 10th 2021

2 Kings 19:15-20:21

King Hezekiah of Judah received a threatening letter from the king of Assyria. He spread it out before the Lord at the temple. He prayed to the Lord ‘enthroned between the cherubim’ (2 Kings 19:15). He pointed out that the Assyrians had insulted the living God. They had destroyed false idols and evil kings but they were including the Lord in a list of false deities who had not saved his people. Hezekiah prayed that Israel would be delivered from their hands.

Isaiah sent the reply from God to the Assyrian aggressors. He used the phrase: ‘The Virgin Daughter of Zion’ to introduce it (2 Kings 19:21), which just means ‘Jerusalem’. God is an ever-loving father to the people of Jerusalem despite their continual sinning. Of course, we can look forward to Mary, Mother of God, when a virgin daughter is mentioned and Isaiah also pointed out that the Assyrians were insulting the ‘Holy One of Israel’ – referring to Jesus. Isaiah had a very strong sense of who Jesus was and that, even prior to his incarnation, he was present with his people suffering insults and shame alongside them.  

The Lord said that a remnant of the house of Judah would come out of Jerusalem. There would always be survivors. God would defend Jerusalem against the Assyrians. They would not enter the city. God had promised to preserve the city of David and his own reputation was at stake (2 Kings 19:34).

That night, the angel of the Lord killed a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp (2 Kings 19:35). Angels are capable of mass destruction when God wants them to unless his wrath. Maybe it was the same destroying angel that killed all the first-born in Egypt, but God has millions of powerful angels to choose from. Fallen angels, demons, would like to slaughter all of us but they are constantly restrained by God from doing this.

The king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew to Ninevah. He was later assassinated by his sons, while worshipping his favoured demonic deity. God had shown his power by slaughtering the Assyrian army but the Assyrian king hadn’t been converted. He still refused to turn to him. I don’t envy whoever had to bury all the dead Assyrians. The dead bodies would have been a major public health risk.

King Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. This appears to be blood poisoning as Isaiah eventually prescribed a poultice of figs for his boil (2 Kings 20:7). However, at first Isaiah had prophesied that Hezekiah would die. He would not recover. At this bad news, Hezekiah ‘turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord’ (2 Kings 20:2). He reminded God of how he had been faithful and devoted he had been. He wept bitterly. Hezekiah did not specifically ask to be healed but God immediately decided to grant him mercy. Before Isaiah had even left the palace, God told him to turn around and pronounce that Hezekiah would be allowed to live for another fifteen years and that Jerusalem would be saved from the Assyrians. Prophecies can be swiftly reversed!

Two important concepts are illustrated here: 1) God can change his mind and so it is always worth praying, particularly when we have tried to do what is good in his eyes. 2) God acts through people. God had granted Hezekiah fifteen more years but it still took Isaiah to prescribe a homemade remedy and for servants to make it and apply it. I love a homemade remedy. I have been suffering from a plague of verrucae on one of my feet for years, which are incurable according to medical science. However, God has inspired me to try soaking my feet in apple cider vinegar every day and I have faith that this is working (don’t blame me if you try this and suffer chemical burns / your foot falls off).

Hezekiah had asked for a sign that the Lord would heal him and asked for the shadow to go back up ten steps of the stairway of Ahaz. God has complete control of the stars and the planets and usually allows them to move precisely to defined schedules. However, just as he dispatched a star to illuminate the place of Jesus’ birth, He was happy to mess up the solar system to give Hezekiah the reassurance he sought.

Hezekiah received envoys from Babylon and showed them all the treasures in his kingdom. Isaiah implied that this might not have been the wisest move. Everything the people of Judah had stored up would eventually be carried off to Babylon, along with some of Hezekiah’s descendants. Hezekiah was not particularly alarmed by this as it sounded like he would be spared in his lifetime. We can’t worry too much about the future and how our descendants will interact with God. We have enough to worry about each day to ensure we are ready to meet our maker at what might be very short notice.

Acts 28:1-6

Paul was now safely ashore on the island of Malta but promptly got bitten by a poisonous snake. He lived, much to the islanders’ amazement. Again, I think this shows how much the devil was trying to kill him. Paul had escaped drowning and so now a serpent on land was sent to attack him. There are no vipers today on Malta and so there is a strong biological argument that this island was actually Melita, where a notorious horned viper still resides. Melita is an island in the Adriatic sea, known today as Meleda or Mljet.

If it was indeed Malta, a small colony of poisonous snakes present in Paul’s time may now have become extinct. There are also legends that Paul may have blessed all the snakes on the island causing them to lose their poison or driven them out as Saint Patrick was reputed to have done in Ireland. Jesus had promised that Christians would not be harmed by poisonous snakes (Mark 16:18).

Paul healed the father of the chief official of the island. The man had been suffering from dysentery. Dysentery is caused by God’s creatures being in the wrong place and acting selfishly to survive. The bacteria or amoebae that cause this disease would have had their own beneficial role to perform in the ecosystem of Eden. They may have helped the fertility of the soil or lived symbiotically in our bodies for both species’ mutual benefit but, after the fall of mankind, creation started to malfunction; organisms started to starve and had to spread to new environments or act selfishly to seize food. Some previously benign bugs became killers as they strived to selfishly dominate and seize control of their human hosts. However, they all still respond to the name of their original creator, Jesus Christ.   

Paul was also able to cure all the rest of the sick people on the island who, in return, furnished them with supplies.

Paul eventually arrived in Rome after an arduous journey. He was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Such an open prison did not hinder Paul in spreading the gospel, as he wrote his letters and received visitors. We can safely assume that he would have converted his guards and the gospel message spread throughout the entire imperial guard (Phil.1:13).

Psalm 83:1-18

Our God is the most high over all the earth (Ps.83:18).

We know this through studying God’s word. We can read of his amazing miracles as he rescued his chosen people from Egypt and ensured their survival through the millennia.

Israel will never be destroyed and we are eternally grateful for this because our salvation, in the person of Jesus, has come from the Jews.

Eventually, non-believers will be ashamed and disgraced. They do not acknowledge how gracious God has been to them even while they continued to be sinners.

God continues to call all people to himself. He will run to gather us into his loving arms when we repent, renounce our selfish ways and return to our loving Father.

Image: https://www.europeana.eu/en/item/9200122/BibliographicResource_1000056125479

Joash Repairs the Temple / Death of Elisha / Paul’s Trial before Festus: July 6th 2021

2 Kings 12:1-14:22

Joash was seven years old when he became king of Judah and he reigned for forty years. He was instructed by Jehoiada the priest and generally ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (2 Kings 12:2) – apart from not removing the high places (traditional sites of pagan worship).  

Joash told the priests to use all the money collected in the temple to repair the temple. The priests were slow to start repairs but quick to collect the money. After several years, Joash enquired why there had been no progress. This finally prompted the priests to employ the necessary craftsmen (2 Kings 12:11-12). The priests then acted with complete honesty with regards to handling the money for the repairs.

Joash paid Hazael, King of Aram, all the gold from the treasures of the temple and the royal palace to persuade him not to attack Jerusalem. Even when a king is working on a project for God, money is still required to both pay for it and protect its future. Eventually, Joash was assassinated by his officials.

Meanwhile, the evil king Jehoahaz ruled Israel. As God was angry at the nation for its idolatrous ways. He kept Israel under the oppressive power of successive Aramean kings.

Jehoahaz eventually asked for God’s help and God did respond due to the severe oppression of the Israelites by the Arameans. The Israelites were delivered from Aram and lived in their own homes. However, they continued with their idolatrous behaviour.

The army of Israel had been virtually wiped out by the Arameans leaving the country undefended. Jehoahaz was succeeded by his son Jehoash.

Jehoash carried on with evil behaviour in the tradition of Jeroboam. Jehoash went to visit Elisha, when the prophet was terminally ill. Elisha told the king to shoot an arrow from a bow through an East window, while he put his hands on the king’s hands. This arrow symbolised an upcoming victory over the Arameans (2 Kings 13:17).

Elisha then told the king to strike the ground with his other arrows (presumably also shooting them through the window). Joash rather half-heartedly just struck the ground three times. Elisha was angry at Joash’s lack of zeal and passion. Elisah explained that if the king had struck the ground five or six times his enemies, the Arameans, would have been completely destroyed. Now they would only be defeated three times. If we are offered a chance to receive a blessing or grab hold of a prophecy, we should do it with enthusiasm. We shouldn’t be lukewarm when it comes to the promises of God. We should keep vigorously striking the ground until God tells us to stop.

Elisha died and was buried. Later, when a dead man was thrown into Elisha’s tomb in an emergency, the dead man sprang back to life when his corpse touched Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21). This is why the Mother Church venerates relics. God still works miracles through the dead bodies, bones and possessions of the saints.     

Amaziah, the son of Joash, became king of Judah. He carried on in the positive footsteps of his father (2 Kings 14:3). He executed the assassins who had murdered his father but excused their sons. He defeated ten thousand Edomites but then arrogantly challenged Jehoash, king of Israel. The king of Israel warned him not to ask for trouble but Amaziah did not back down. His country, Judah, was subsequently routed by Israel. Israel broke down six hundred feet of the wall of Jerusalem and plundered the temple and the royal palace. This was a new low in the relationship between idol-worshipping Israel and the more righteous Judah.

Acts 25:1-22

After Paul was held in jail for two years, Governor Felix was succeeded by the splendidly named Porcius Festus.

Festus visited Jerusalem, where the chief priests and Jewish leaders had still not forgotten or forgiven Paul. They still wanted to kill him in an ambush and so asked Festus to have Paul transferred back to them.

Festus convened a court back in Caesarea. Paul appeared before the Jews. They still could not get any of their serious charges to stick because they could not be proved. Paul gave his defence and explained that he was innocent of all charges (Acts 25:8). If we are ever accused falsely by belligerent prosecutors we can remember Paul’s trials and know we are in good company.  

Festus asked Paul if he was prepared to go to Jerusalem. Festus cared more about appeasing the Jews than justice. Paul refused. No-one had the right to hand him over to the Jews as he had done nothing wrong. Paul appealed to Caesar and would now have to be sent on an all-expenses paid trip to Rome.  

King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice, visited Festus. Agrippa was fascinated to hear about Paul. He wanted to hear about the ‘dead man’ (Jesus) who Paul claimed was alive. Paul would once again deliver his testimony to influential people.

Psalm 81:1-7

God is our strength and we should sing his praise with enthusiastic joy. We shouldn’t mumble worship songs and hymns; we should sing them vigorously feeling proud to make loud music and strike our tambourines.

Jesus rescued us from slavery. He hears us when we cry out in distress. We will be tested to teach us endurance and character but he will always rescue us. He removes the heavy burdens from our shoulders and gives us rest. He invites us to share his light yoke with him as he walks gently in step with us every day of our lives. Jesus set free our hands so we could help him carry his righteous burden. This will be a joy because Jesus our saviour is humble, his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt.11:28-30).

Image: https://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/paul-festus-agrippa/

Elisha’s miracles: The Widow’s oil and Boy Back to Life / Paul Arrives in Jerusalem: July 1st 2021

2 Kings 3:1-4:37

Joram, son of Ahab, became king of Israel. He wasn’t as bad as his notorious mother and father but still ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’ (2 Kings 3:2). He got rid of his father’s sacred stone. The Israelites continued to worship other idols in the tradition of Jeroboam.

Mesha, the king of Moab, rebelled against having to send a massive tribute of lambs and wool to Israel. Joram allied with King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and the king of Edom to fight against the Moabites. They unwisely marched their troops through the Desert of Edom and ran out of water after seven days. Elisha the prophet was with them. He would not have ignored the king of Israel, but, out of respect for Jehoshaphat, he told them to bring him a harpist. While the harpist played, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha who prophesied that they should make ditches in the valley. Then, these ditches would be miraculously filled with water; Moab would be handed to them and they would ruin the country (2 Kings 3:19). It seems unusual that Elisha first asked for a harpist. However, David used to play the harp to drive away an evil spirit from King Saul (1 Samuel 16:23). Perhaps Elisha needed to drive away negative influences, as he was in the presence of the evil king of Israel, before God would speak to him.

The next morning, the ditches were miraculously filled with water (flowing from the direction of Edom). The sun shining on the water making it look like blood which encouraged the Moabites to attack, thinking the forces allied against them had attacked each other. The king of Moab, after the battle had gone against him, sacrificed his firstborn son on the city wall. The Israelites went back home after they had invaded the land, slaughtered the Moabites, destroyed the towns and ruined the fields.

God carried out a multiplication miracle through Elijah that allowed a widow to keep her sons with her. The widow only had a little oil in her house. She was instructed to ask her neighbours for empty jars. She was to take the jars into her house and shut the door behind her and her sons. She then poured the oil into the extra jars until they were all full at which time the oil stopped flowing. She was able to sell some oil to pay her debts and live off the rest of it. I like to think this miraculously produced oil would be the finest that people had ever tasted – like the magnificent wine that Jesus produced at Cana.

This type of multiplication miracle still happens today. Many have prayed successfully that a dish of prepared food will stretch to feed a host of unexpected guests. My pastor recalls when she was a missionary in Africa and had to keep her bread flour in tins – for fear of the weevils. When she came to make bread one day, all the tins were empty. There would be nothing for lunch. After praying, she checked a tin that she had already looked in earlier to find that it was miraculously full. God provides to those with faith.

A well-to-do woman often gave Elisha a meal whenever he passed and ended up making him a small guest room too. Elisha wanted to do something to repay her kindness. God loves the hospitable. Elisha prophesied that she would have a son in a year. She was childless and her husband was old. Her son was born as predicted but unfortunately died suddenly after he had grown into a boy. The woman rode off on a donkey looking for Elisha as she knew God would listen to him. She wouldn’t tell Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, what was wrong. She took hold of Elisha’s feet. She reminded him that she shouldn’t have been misled about having a son if he was going to die.

Gehazi ran on ahead of Elisha to lay Elisha’s staff on the boy’s face but there was no response. It took Elisha to pray to the Lord and to lie on the woman’s son twice in order for the Lord to bring him back to life. It is effective to remind God of his promises when we pray.

Acts 21:1-26

Disciples repeatedly warned Paul (through the Spirit) not to go to Jerusalem. However, he was not to be dissuaded. Paul was happy to be made captive and even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 21:13).

Paul was able to travel with little expense as the disciples were so hospitable wherever he went, letting him stay in their homes.

Paul was received warmly in Jerusalem. He reported to the church elders how the Gentiles had responded to his ministry. The elders had a plan to placate thousands of Jewish converts to Christianity who had become convinced that Paul was leading Jews away from the Jewish law. They asked Paul to join four men in their purification rites after the completion of a vow to demonstrate that he still had respect for Jewish customs and lived according to the law. Paul dutifully joined in and went to the temple to give the customary notice. Paul was prepared to comply with any reasonable regulations if it meant he could continue his ministry.

Psalm 78:56-72

God brought David from the actual sheep pens to be the shepherd of his people (Psalm 78:70-71).

David was a man after God’s own heart and shepherded his people with skill and integrity (Ps.78:72).

The kings after David did not have his integrity. They rebelled and were disloyal and faithless. The whole country lost its integrity as God divided Israel from Judah.   

We should pray to God not only for wisdom but also for integrity – to be honest and have strong moral principles.

Jesus demonstrated integrity in everything he did (Mark 12:14). We can learn his ways by studying his word and living out his principles in our daily lives.

Image: Circle of Jan Pynas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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

2 Samuel 5:6-6:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 1:23-2:21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 69:29-36

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

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

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

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

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

Saul Anointed as King / Jesus Predicts his Death: May 21st 2021

1 Samuel 8:1-10:8

Even the great prophet Samuel could not get his children to behave. Even though he had appointed his sons as responsible judges they ‘accepted bribes and perverted justice’ (v.3). The elders of Israel asked Samuel to appoint a king to rule over them instead. Samuel was upset about this but God saw it as a progression in the way they had rejected Him from the time of the Exodus. Samuel warned the Israelites of the oppression, taxation, exploitation and slavery that a human king would subject them to but they refused to listen. The Israelites wanted to be like all the other nations – with a king to lead them, go out before them and fight their battles (v.20). They rejected the chance to be special, to wholeheartedly choose God as their king. They rejected the all-powerful God, who had saved them repeatedly with stunning miracles, to put their trust in a mortal man. God told Samuel to listen to them and do what they wanted.

A tall man named Saul was sent out by his father to look for their lost donkeys. After much fruitless searching, his servant suggested that they should ask the man of God, Samuel, for advice. Samuel had been told by God to anoint the Benjamite he was now sending to him as king.

Samuel told Saul not to worry about the donkeys he lost three days ago – they had already been found. This supernatural knowledge would have impressed Saul who was told to eat with Samuel and listen to his prophecy the following morning.

The next morning Samuel took a flask of oil and anointed Saul’s head and kissed him. He gave him detailed prophetic instructions about who he would meet on his travels and where these encounters would be. Saul would eventually meet a procession of prophets and then, the Spirit of the Lord would come on him in power. He would prophesy with them and ‘you will be changed into a different person’ (10:6). We are changed into a different person – a new species – by repenting and renouncing sin, becoming baptized, inviting Jesus into our lives as our personal Saviour and asking the Holy Spirit to fully activate his gifts within us.

Samuel instructed Saul to wait for him at Gilgal for seven days. Samuel would come to sacrifice offerings to God. If Saul showed his obedience to these instructions, his kingship would be off to a good start.

John 12:12-36

Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem by shouting crowds: ‘Blessed is the King of Israel’ (v.13). Jesus rode into the city on a young donkey in accordance with Old Testament prophecy. People were still flocking to him because he had shown his mastery over death by raising Lazarus from the tomb. The Pharisees were even more envious of his popularity and success. Envy is what brought the whole of humanity down, because the Devil was envious of God’s special relationship with Adam and Eve and so vowed to destroy us, by demonstrating we are not worthy of God’s love.

People from other countries, such as Greece, were asking to see Jesus. They would take his teaching back to his home nations, sowing a seed of faith to be harvested by later disciples.

Jesus pointed out that when a grain of wheat falls to the ground and ‘dies’, it then germinates, grows and eventually produces many seeds. Jesus’ death on the cross (and his resurrection) would lead to the worldwide spread of Christianity to every nation on the planet.

If we serve Jesus, he promised that his Father would honour us (v.26). Jesus asked his Father to glorify his name and a thundering voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again’ (v.28).

Jesus said it was time for judgement and ‘the prince of this world (the devil) would be driven out’ (v.31). The reason Jesus came to earth was to destroy the works of the devil such as sickness, oppression and death.

Jesus predicted his own crucifixion: ‘But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ (v.32). Jesus’ heart was troubled (v.27) at the prospect of his self-sacrificial death but he trusted his Father would deliver him.

We need to choose Jesus as the light of our lives while we are still alive. Our mortal lifespans are short. Your life could end suddenly today or tomorrow and then it will be too late to choose eternal life. We need to come to him with urgency because once we are dead and darkness has overcome us, it will be too late to choose eternal life. His light will dawn within us and shine out to others, illuminating the way to Jesus and salvation.

‘Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons (and daughters) of light’ (v.36).

Psalm 65:1-13

God forgives our transgressions, through the blood of his precious son, when we are overwhelmed by sin. He calls each one of us to him, we just have to respond to his voice. He knows our futures, who will respond to him and be blessed and who will reject his gift of eternal life.

Jesus created the whole wonderful world at Gods command: the magnificent mountains, the abundant land and the roaring seas. God cares for the land, watering it and enriching it.

He fills the world with flocks of Christians and clothes us with gladness so that we can shout for joy and sing.

He cares for our souls, filling our hearts with streams of living water from the Holy Spirit and enriching us with his word do that we can produce fruit in abundance.

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/49102781@N03/4500058491

The Word Became Flesh / John the Baptist Denies being the Christ: April 29th 2021

Joshua 15:1-16:10

The captured areas of the promised land were allotted to the tribes of Israel. Some of the land had very evocative names: ‘The Salt Sea, crossed south of the Scorpion Pass’ (v.2).

Caleb drove out three Anakites (giants) from Hebron named Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai (v.14). Caleb was very assertive when he claimed Hebron as his inheritance. He had seen the area forty-five years ago and had made Moses promise to give the territory to him. He had dreamed about it ever since. We need to have a Caleb-like attitude to our faith. We have all been told about what Jesus did for us on the cross, so we need to grab from him the gift of eternal life through our faith in him. We have been told about the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit so let us grab all of them / snatching them in the name of Jesus. There are sufficient gifts for all – Jesus will multiple the gifts so there will be hampers left of them after everyone is satisfied. We won’t be depriving anyone else. When it comes to receiving the gifts of God, we need to take action, we don’t want to be meek and mild.

The tribe of Judah were allocated dozens of towns and villages as their inheritance. However, they ‘could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem’ (v.63). So even their future capital city could not be cleansed from people who worshipped demonic entities. The Jebusites lived there with the people of Judah. It was going to prove impossible for the Israelites not to be influenced by their new neighbours. Several important Biblical characters: Zadok the Priest, Nathan the Prophet and Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon were Jebusites. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and conspired for her husband to be killed. Having a Canaanite tribe living with the Israelites opened them up to so many temptations that even their God-fearing King succumbed.

The same thing happened to the other tribes. The tribe of Ephraim, descendants of Joseph, was not able to dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezar (v.10). The Canaanites continued to live among them but were ‘required to do forced labour’ (v.10).

John 1:1-28

Jesus existed as God, the second person of the Trinity, from the beginning of all time. He created the earth and everything on it: ‘Through him all things were made’ (v.3). He is our life and our light that shines in the darkness. People who choose to live in darkness still do not understand him.

The world does not recognises its creator (v.10). Even famous naturalists today, like Sir David Attenborough, have totally failed to recognise or acknowledge the creator despite being blessed with an extraordinary life and privileged access to the wonders of the natural world.

If we choose to receive him, he gives us the right to become children of God (v.12).

Jesus became flesh and lived among us. He lived a life full of grace and truth (v.14). The law was given through Moses but Jesus is the new Moses, the ultimate representative of God being truly God himself, to reveal the nature of the Father to us. He revealed truth to us.

Nicky Gumbel (p.249) writes: ‘The purpose of John’s gospel is to lead you into an experience of communion with God through friendship with Jesus. John wrote that: ‘No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (Jesus), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known’. Exodus states that: ‘The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (Exod. 33:11). This means that it must have been Jesus meeting with Moses in the tent of the meeting, who made Moses’ face shine with light. Jesus wants to be our best friend, to meet with us, empower us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit to do his work and lead us into everlasting communion with our heavenly Father. It is wonderful to have a friend who is always with him. Without the constant presence of Jesus we would literally fall apart: ‘He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’ (Colossians 1:17).

If we refuse to acknowledge Jesus, we are hiding from the truth. Demons are liars and refuse to acknowledge the truth except when they are compelled to in the name of Jesus. When they are expelled by the solemn Rite of Exorcism, it’s as if the truth of the resurrection of Christ is poured down their throats (https://spiritualdirection.com/2021/04/27/exorcist-diary-we-won-he-didnt-rise).

John the Baptist issued in the new age of truth by freely confessing, ‘I am not the Christ’ (v.20). He prepared the way for Jesus by baptising people for the repentance of sins (Matthew 3:11). Repentance and confession are fabulous but many people do not ‘feel any different’ after confessing their sins. If they have made a sincere confession, they will have had God’s priceless forgiveness and received his grace. However, many people soon commit the same selection of sins again and months later find themselves confessing in exactly the same way. Jesus came to baptise us with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). The Holy Spirit will build us up / edify us and strengthen us so that our old sinful habits lose their attraction. We won’t feel like turning to drink or having illicit sex. Our interior person will be stronger. Once baptized, we simply need to pray to the Holy Spirit to come powerfully into our life and activate his gifts within us. The longer we pray in the spirit / pray in tongues each day, the more we will be strengthened and led away from sin. Resisting sin by ourselves is virtually impossible. When we hand over our prayer life to God, we will receive supernatural strength.

Psalm 53:1-6

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”. Rejecting God is the most foolish and illogical thing that anyone could ever do. Many people buy lottery tickets despite there being an infinitesimal chance of winning a substantial sum. There is no logic or sense to buying one. However, many of the same people don’t take a chance on Jesus being the universal saviour. Even if there were a one in a million chance of spending everlasting life in heaven, should Christians actually be telling the truth, rather than everlasting torture in hell then we all should take a chance and believe. In the worst case scenario, we would spend our life being generous and nice to people before degrading into compost. If the gospel is true and thousands of martyrs have died to demonstrate that it is, we would become children of God and rise to life everlasting.

Most of our society is corrupt and vile ways are acceptable to our secular society – as long at ‘they don’t hurt anybody else’. However, all sin hurts everybody else. There is no such thing as a private sin. We are all sinners and deserve death but through believing in Jesus we can become sinless in the eyes of God, because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus. We can commune with God through being friends with Jesus.

When God looks down from heaven, let us stand up and be counted as people who seek God.

Image: By Anton Raphael Mengs – 1. ngHjvgNHHmV4zA at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum2. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, online collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78613515

Rahab and the Spies / Fall of Jerusalem: April 22nd 2021

Joshua 1:1-2:24

It was time for Joshua to step up and replace the Old Testament’s greatest leader, Moses. No pressure! He had to lead millions of people across the Jordan to conquer the promised land. They must wrestle it from well organised hostile tribes, some of whom were giants, living in walled cities. This was a task impossible for men, but nothing is impossible for God!

God promised to never leave his new servant Joshua or forsake him (v.5). The Israelites, in return, just had to obey the law that Moses had given them. The Israelites all exhorted themselves and their leader to be ‘strong and courageous’ (v.18). They knew the challenge ahead of them.

God would give Joshua ‘every place where you place your foot’ (v.3). Joshua had to have enough courageous faith in God that we would actually step into enemy territory. He couldn’t just wait on the safe side of the Jordan and believe the land would be given to him. Joshua actually had to boldly step out in faith, in partnership with God, to conquer the land.

Joshua sent out two spies who are hidden by the wise prostitute, Rahab, who lived in Jericho. The great walled city, Jericho, was first on the list to be conquered. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, was descended from Rahab. She reformed her ways after she teamed up with the Israelites and married a man called Salmon. They were the parents of Boaz – a key figure in the book of Ruth (see the genealogy in Matthew 1:5).

Rahab was courageous enough to defy the king of Jericho by hiding the Jewish spies. She knew that the Israelites would conquer the city, ‘for the Lord your God is heaven above and on the earth below (v.11). The news of God drying up the Red Sea and defeating the kings of the Amorites had gone before them. By her faith, courage, and (let’s face it) lies for a good cause, Rahab saved both herself and her entire family. The Israelite spies promised her and her family would be spared when when the city was overthrown.

The spies told Joshua that the Lord had given the whole land into their hands because ‘all the people are melting in fear because of us’ (v.24). We should feel as positive as those spies when we pray for people to be delivered from demonic powers. We have power and authority over them because of the name of Jesus, which is above all other names. At the name of Jesus, all evil spirits melt with fear.

Luke 21:5-38

Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in AD 70 by the Romans. All architecture and nature itself will come to an end at the final judgement. Everything on this earth is temporary.

Jesus predicted that there would be wars and great trials: ‘earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven (v.11) before he came again. Before this, Christians will be persecuted. We should not worry about how to defend ourselves (v.14). Jesus will give us ‘words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict’ (v.15).

Jesus warned Christians that ‘all men will hate you because of me’ (v.17). It certainly feels like this when we campaign for pro-life issues and stand up for basic morality. Jesus strengthens us not to give up and join in with modern secular society, the society of death, ‘by standing firm you will gain life’ (v.19).

After great signs in the heavens, Jesus will come ‘in a cloud with power and great glory’ (v.27). Most of the world will be terrified at this site but not Christians. We will stand up and lift up our heads, because our redemption is drawing near (v.28). This passage seems to imply there is no such thing as ‘the rapture’, when some think Christians will float off up into the air before the second coming of Jesus. Jesus said we will need to stand up and lift up our heads – which we couldn’t do if we had already floated up into space.

We must not be weighed down with depression, lack of energy, drunkenness and anxieties (v.34). We must keep soldiering on positively until the end, watching out and praying that we will be able to stand confidently before Jesus when he arrives.

Jesus was a fantastic teacher speaking anointed words. People got up early in the morning and flocked to the temple to hear him. His words will never pass away and are enshrined in the precious Bible. Let us get up early each morning and rush to read his word. It is the perfect start. Each day, we can reflect on what we have learned and apply it to that day’s experiences.

Proverbs 10:11-20

If we choose to say words that are righteous, we can bring life to people (v.1).

There is a lot of dissension in the world stirred up by hatred. In contrast, ‘love covers over all wrongs’ (v.12).

If we work in a worthwhile job, we will thrive. We should not earn an income by damaging the environment or acting immorally, ‘the income of the wicked brings them punishment’ (v.16).

We should heed positive criticism and discipline. Persistent rule-breakers lead others astray (v.17). It is easy to say to ourselves, ‘well, everyone else is doing it’ about an illegal or immoral act.

We need to forgive others – with both our lips and our hearts as ‘he who conceals his hatred has lying lips’ (v.18). It is wise to keep quiet when we don’t have anything good to say about people. Before speaking, we should ask ourselves: ‘is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?’ Our words should build people up, not slander them in a sinful way: ‘the tongue of the righteous is choice silver’ (v.20). A wicked heart is of little value but baptized Christians have the Holy Spirit residing in their hearts, sanctifying them and making them holier day by day.

Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Be Generous and Gather God’s Chicks: April 11th 2021

Deuteronomy 15:1 – 16:20

The Israelites were instructed to cancel debts to each other every 7 years (v.1). A commendable system, which would make many people’s lives much better if we applied it today to mortgages. The promised land was going to be so productive, God expected there to be no poor among them ‘if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. (v.4).’

By the time Jesus arrived, there were many poor people indicating how far away from God’s intentions the people had come. Jesus said, ‘the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me (Matthew 26:11).

God decreed how financially secure the Jews would become, ‘you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none (v.6).

God called the Israelites to be generous to their less fortunate brothers and ‘freely lend him whatever he needs (v.8)’. They should do so ‘without a grudging heart’ (v.10) then God would bless them in everything they did. God states there will ‘always be poor people in the land’ (v.11). He may have been predicting the Israelites would not carefully follow all his commands or He was referring to widows, orphans and newly-arrived migrants who would rely on the charity of others.

Hebrew servants had to be freed in the seventh year (v.12) and supplied liberally with provisions. The Israelites must remember how they were liberated from Egypt and were given riches by the Egyptian on departure. Slaves could chose to stay with their master if they loved them and were well treated.

The Jews were to eat the firstborn of their herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord (v.20). At Passover, they were to eat unleavened bread – because they had to leave Egypt in haste. No yeast must be found in their possession for seven days (v.4). Yeast also represents sin. It starts as just a tiny amount, grows its tentacles into everything, making problems rise and grow. I read an article in which people complained that supermarkets had run out of yeast in lockdown. This amused microbiologists who pointed out the world can never run out of yeast. To get some, you just have to leave out an uncovered bowl of flour and water and the yeast will find you. The Israelites would have been eating sourdough, with natural yeast cultures blown to them by the desert winds. If we leave ourselves uncovered by the blood of Jesus, sin will also infect and start to grow in us.

‘No man should appear before the Lord empty-handed’ (16:16). We should all give to the Lord in proportion to the way we have prospered.

Justice must be a top priority. Officials must judge fairly with no partiality and must not accept bribes. The kingdom of heaven has the the most honest courts in creation. We would have been condemned for all eternity as sinners if Jesus’ death had not justified us in the sight of God.

Luke 13:31-14:14

Some Pharisees still had enough respect for Jesus that they warned him about Herod. Jesus was not intimidated by Herod wanting to kill him (v.32), even though he knew he was a cunning adversary. Jesus was used to people trying to kill him. Herod’s father had plotted to kill Jesus as soon as he was born. Jesus knew his Father would protect him until exactly the right moment he chose to lay down his life.

Jesus mourned over the spiritual state of Jerusalem. Its people had long rebelled, killing all God’s messenger sent to gather them back to him. Jesus longed to tenderly gather its children together ‘as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ (v.34). However, God does not make it compulsory for us to love Him. He gave us free will so that we can freely choose to love, because He loved us first. A hen will give up her life for her chicks and defend them against danger, but it can’t run after each chick. They have to be aware of where she is and run to her at the slightest hint of trouble. It is heart-breaking that churches can offer such a wonderful place of refuge for people, but the great majority chose not to go. We should give the warmest, genuine welcome to both old and new visitors to our church to make them feel they have been gathered under the protective and living wings of God.

Jesus would make a glorious entrance to the city on Palm Sunday, prior to Calvary. The people of Jerusalem would praise him for a day, before turning on him.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath again. He pointed out that the Pharisees would always rescue one of their children or animals on a Sabbath. Why shouldn’t Jesus rescue the people he created if they were in distress? The Pharisees were using the Sabbath regulations as a way to trap and criticise people rather than following the spirit of this day of rest.

We should always take a seat of low importance at a function. We can always be moved to a more prestigious one. Jesus came to serve, not to be served and we should emulate his humility.

We will be blessed if we host people who have no means of paying us back. If we just provide hospitality to our prosperous neighbours and they host us in return, we have given nothing. We need to help the poor and the needy in imitation of Jesus.

Psalm 44:1-12

King David recalled how God helped the Israelites conquer the promised land. The stories had been faithfully handed down by previous generations. God helped them because He loved them (v.3).

David did not trust his own strength or weapons to win battles (v.6). He relied on God.

All victories are due to God’s assistance and for the glory of God. Thanks be to God.

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