Solomon asks for Wisdom / Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison: June 17th 2021

Kings 2:13-3:15

David’s son, Adonijah, had been outmanoeuvred in his attempt to become king of Israel. David had ensured that his younger son, Solomon, would succeed him.

Solomon would only let his elder brother live if he proved himself to be a worthy man (1 Kings 1:52) and so Adonijah should have led a quiet, respectable life. However, lust was his undoing as it had been for his father.

Adonijah went to Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, and asked a favour. He wanted her to ask her son, King Solomon, if he could take the deceased King David’s beautiful, virgin, bedwarmer (Abishag) as his wife.

This was a terrible mistake. Solomon was infuriated by this disrespectful request. He probably also had his eye on Abishag. Adonijah was one of his elder brothers and so had a valid claim on the throne. If Solomon gave him a woman whom David had spent most of this time with during his dotage, this would make him even more of a threat (1 Kings 2:22).

Solomon had inherited Benaiah as captain of his bodyguards and he ordered him to kill Adonijah. It was then time to deal with the rest of Adonijah’s allies. Solomon sent Abiathar the priest back to his fields, removing him from the priesthood. Solomon told him that he deserved to die for conspiring against him but Abiathar had been loyal to King David and ‘shared all my father’s hardships’ (1 Kings 2:26).

Solomon then had to deal with Joab, the ruthless commander of the army. Joab had fled to the tent of the Lord, after hearing about Adonijah and Abiathar, and was beside the altar seeking sanctuary. Solomon did not grant him mercy and ordered him to be killed there for his crimes (the murders of Abner, Amasa and his conspiracy to oust David from the throne during his last days). Joab had also disobediently killed David’s other rebelling son, Absalom, despite explicit instructions from David that he shouldn’t be harmed. On the other hand, Joab had fought valiantly for David on many occasions as chief of the army. He could have been retired to somewhere harmless for his generally loyal support to David but he was an extremely dangerous man and Solomon wanted to secure his throne.

Solomon did give the disrespectful Shimei a chance. He told him to stay in Jerusalem or he would be executed. Three years later, Shimei left the city briefly to retrieve two runaway slaves. This was the excuse Solomon needed to have him killed and his kingdom was now firmly established (1 Kings 2:46).

There are some interesting principles at work here. When Adonijah desired Abishag, he asked Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, to intercede for him on the grounds that he would not refuse her. She even instructed her son the king not to refuse her (1 Kings 2:20). Christians in the Mother Church pray today to the Blessed Virgin Mary asking her to intercede for them, for her to talk to her son, Jesus Christ, in order to get their prayer requests to the top of the queue. They want her to use her influence over her son. This can be extremely effective. However, it has got to be a godly request that fully complies with all principles in the Bible. Solomon refused the request from his brother even though it had been mediated through his mother because it put his own rule at risk. God gives us what we need not necessarily what we desire – particularly if those desires are harmful.

Solomon had tidied up all the unfinished business of King David and had extended mercy to Abiathar the priest and Shimei. However, he was not going to put up with disobedience and so Shimei eventually provoked his own execution. I feel slightly sorry for Joab, who had fought valiantly for his uncle David. Two of Joab’s killings (Abner and Absalom) had tidied up problems for David. However, Joab was a dangerous individual prone to disobedience. Solomon wanted no responsibility for the murders that Joab had committed (1 Kings 2:33). If we live by the sword, we die by the sword. Just as Joab had been the hatchet man for King David, Solomon now had Benaiah to do his dirty work for him.

Solomon started to make political alliances. He married an Egyptian princess. Because a temple had not yet been built, the Israelites were still sacrificing at the high places. The Israelites had been instructed to destroy all the high places where the Canaanites had worshipped their gods (Num.33:52 and Deut.12:2-6). The Israelites at the start of Solomon’s reign seemed to be blending religions by using the traditional Canaanite worship sites for the worship of our one true God. ‘The Lord’ appeared to Solomon in a dream, where he had travelled to offer sacrifices at the most important high place and said: ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you’ (1 Kings 3:5). As no-one can see the face of God and live, this must have been Jesus appearing to Solomon and conversing with him – yet another Christophany.

Solomon was already wise for a young man but he asked for even more wisdom in order to be a just leader (1 Kings 3:9). Jesus was delighted that Solomon had not asked for long life, wealth or the death of his enemies and so he gave him the wisest and most discerning heart of any man ever and also gave him riches and honour. If he walked in God’s ways and obeyed his statutes and commands, he would also have a long life (1 King 3:12-14).

Solomon realised that his dream had been life changing. He now had the confidence to stand in front of the ark of the covenant and make sacrifices to God. He then gave a feast for all his court. When we know that God has broken into our lives and spoken to our hearts, we can’t help but celebrate.

Acts 11:19-12:19a

Disciples, other than Peter, had also started to convert Gentiles. Some disciples had travelled to Antioch, where Greeks then became believers and turned to the Lord.

The disciples sent Barnabas to encourage the new believers to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts (Acts 11:23). Barnabas went to fetch Saul from Tarsus and brought him to Antioch, where they both preached for a year. This is where believers first became known as ‘Christians’.

A Christian prophet stated there would be a severe famine over the entire Roman world. The disciples were happy to send monetary assistance to their brothers living in Judea. To a Christian, excess money is best used to help other people.

The wicked King Herod put James, the brother of John, to death. As this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too. As Peter was detained in the Jerusalem prison, the church ‘earnestly’ prayed for him. Even through Peter was under close guard, he was rescued by an angel in the night (Acts 12:7). Peter had to get up and follow the angels’ instructions to escape.

It must have strengthened Peter’s faith to know that God supported his mission (Acts 12:11). If we as a church really want something to happen we have to put effort into our praying. God answered the fledgling church’s earnest prayers.

Peter fled to the house of John Mark’s mother. This John Mark was the Mark who wrote the second gospel.

A servant girl heard Peter’s voice outside the door but other people in the house did not believe her. It seemed impossible for Peter to escape and they said, ‘It must be his angel’ (Acts 12:15). The Jews held the same tradition as Christians that each one of us is assigned a Guardian Angel at the time we are conceived. However, the Jews also believed that a Guardian angel looked identical to the person they were protecting and evidently also sounded the same.

The disciples eventually opened the door and were astonished to see the real Peter. Peter asked them to pass his story onto James and the other brothers and then left to hide from Herod in a less obvious location.

Herod could not find Peter in the morning. He was not lenient on the guards who had failed to retain him (Acts 12:19). This story shows how much of a threat Herod thought Peter was. Herod had no intention of allowing Peter to be rescued. Peter had been chained and made to sleep between two soldiers with sentries on guard at the entrance. Some pastors say that God does not intervene directly after Jesus died and relies on human beings to do his work for us. The disciples did earnestly pray for Peter’s release but it was no human who came to his rescue. God had demonstrated he was willing to deploy angelic assistance to save the apostles when there was no other alternative.

Proverbs 15:1-10

Our tongue is the most powerful organ in our body. We can protect ourselves with our tongue (Prov.15:1). We can praise, spread knowledge and bring healing with our tongue.

A wicked tongue stirs up anger and gushes folly. A deceitful one crushes the spirit.

God is pleased with the prayers of the upright. He loves those who pursue righteousness (Prov.15:9) and will fill their house with great treasure. He detests the ways and sacrifices of the wicked. Their income will bring them trouble.

We should prudently listen to valid criticism as it may keep us alive. We cannot escape from God; he is everywhere and in everything. His eyes are everywhere. No sin is ever secret. He keeps watch on the wicked and the good (Prov.15:3).

Image: By Bartolomé Esteban Murillo – http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/tmplobs/T0W0Q86QNMP6XMQX2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9639644

God Sends Plague / Peter Resuscitates Tabitha: June 15th 2021

2 Samuel 23:8-24:25

David was an incredible fighter. He also had three ‘mighty men’ in his army who were renowned for their fighting prowess. One of them, Josheb-Basshebeth, had killed eight hundred men with a spear in one battle. They were prepared to stand their ground and fight hordes of the enemy even when their fellow comrades had fled in fear

Kings have to be careful what they say in the earshot of particularly loyal subjects. David once rashly said during a war with the Philistines: ‘Oh that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!’ (2 Sam.23:15). The three mighty men fought their way through Philistine battle lines to fetch it for him. David was horrified at the risks they had taken and wouldn’t drink it. This reminds me of when David wept for his dead son Absalom, disgracing his army who had risked their lives to defend his sovereignty. I personally think he should have been grateful for their efforts, drank the water and vowed not to be so irresponsible in the future. It’s probably not a good idea to disrespect men who can kill hundreds of soldiers in one battle.

Abishai, the brother of the army commander Joab, was chief of the three mighty men and had killed three hundred men in one skirmish. Both he and Joab were nephews of King David. Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant fighter and and as famous as the three mighty men. He was put in charge of David’s bodyguard due to his great exploits. There were another thirty men in David’s personal army who were also renowned for their skill in battle and bravery.

In every thriving church there are usually two or three mighty men or women who greatly assist the pastor / priest in running the parish. We shouldn’t just take from our church community, we should seek to give and to donate our time, money and talents. Even if we don’t have time to be one of the three most renowned mighty men or women in our church we can loyally strive to be in the top thirty and hope for promotion to more responsibility.

God incited David to take a census of Israel and Judah and he entrusted this task to Joab (2 Sam.24:2). However, later in the Bible it said that Satan incited David to do this (1 Chron.21:1). However, Satan is not allowed to do anything without God’s mysterious permission and so they might have discussed putting David through a trial of his faith just as God permitted Satan to persecute Job (Job 1:12).

David’s army commander, Joab, was reluctant to conduct the census. Joab was cunning and ruthless and he could see that this would result in trouble, However, David over-ruled him. The census took nine months and twenty days. The count showed that Israel had many more fighting men than Judah (2 Sam.24:9).

David was then conscience stricken and realised he had done a very foolish thing. He confessed to God and asked for his guilt to be removed (2 Sam.24:10). He should have said to God: ‘I don’t need to count my soldiers because I rely on you for victory. You will win the battle for me no matter how great the opposition’. By counting the troops, it appeared that he intended to rely on his own military might rather than trust in God to deliver him.

God spoke to David through the prophet Gad and said there were three options as to how God should punish him for his lack of trust: three years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies or three days of plague. David left it up to the mercy of God as long as he did not ‘fall into the hands of men’ (2 Sam.24:14).

The Lord chose to send plague on Israel from that very morning and seventy thousand people died. When the angel striking down the people with plague was just about to strike Jerusalem, God stopped him. ‘God was grieved because of the calamity’ (2 Sam.24:16). David could actually see the plague angel at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and said to God that he personally should be punished, rather than his subjects who were but sheep. David showed himself to be a good shepherd, prepared to die for his flock.

The prophet Gad told David to build an altar where the plague angel had stopped. David insisted on buying the threshing floor and oxen from Araunah, even though they were offered to him for free. David built the altar and sacrificed to the Lord, who then answered prayer on behalf of the land. The plague in Israel was stopped.

This is a very strange story. God was very angry at Israel for an undefined reason. He incited David to take a census or got Satan to do it and then offered a choice of three different punishments when the census was eventually completed. The only person who had immediately spotted this would not turn out well was David’s cunning and murderous army commander nephew, Joab.

If David had chosen to be pursued around the country for three months – which was one of the punishment options offered by God – that would probably have saved a lot of lives. However, in the end, David came out well offering him (and his family) as a sacrifice in place of his subjects. David proved himself to be a good shepherd offering himself up for his sheep.

It’s a troublesome passage because I have heard Pastors say that God never brings disease – that’s the work of the devil. This text clearly shows that God brought this plague and an angel (not a demon) actively inflicted it. However, even when the devil does bring a disease (or incite someone to carry out an illicit census), God has allowed him to do it which is the same as doing it himself. Nothing happens in heaven or earth without God’s permission. He is all powerful. It’s all very mysterious but as God owns everything, has positive reasons for everything that happens and has good long-term plans, we just have to trust in his justice, wisdom and mercy. He is our refuge and our strength and will answer if we cry out to him.

Acts 9:32-10:23a

Peter prayed for a paralytic to be healed: ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and tidy up your mat’. This can be a model for our healing prayers. Jesus has the power and authority to heal, not us, and so we pray in his name. Peter’s command showed total faith in Jesus. The paralytic man had to choose to move in faith to grab his chance of being healed. He chose to get up immediately. This healing echoed Jesus healing a long-time invalid with a direct command (John 5:8).

Peter then went to bring a disciple named Tabitha back to life. He sent all the crying widows, who Tabitha had helped in her lifetime, out of her room and got down on his knees to pray before commanding her to get up. Jesus had resurrected a little girl with the words ‘Talitha koum!’ (Which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!)’ (Mark 5:41-42). Before Jesus did this he had put all the people who were weeping and wailing out of the room. We should also pray in an atmosphere of peace, not surrounded by distress, despair and unbelief.

A Roman centurion, Cornelius, then sent for Peter. Even though he was not a Jew, Cornelius (and his family) had a wonderful reputation for being devout, God-fearing and charitable (Acts 10:2). Cornelius had seen a vision of an angel about three in the afternoon. Three o’clock in the afternoon is a great time for a vision as it is the holy time when Jesus died. Conversely, three o’clock in the morning isn’t a holy time of day. If we wake up with a nightmare at three o’clock in the morning, the thoughts in our mind are likely to have come from the demonic dark side and we should pray until we regain peace. Even though Cornelius was a Roman Gentile the angel gave him fascinating news: ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God’ (Acts 10:4). This shows that people’s good needs and prayers can eventually attract God’s attention even before they are Christians.

Meanwhile, Peter had a vision in which God had said: ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’ (Acts 10:15). As he was wondering about the meaning of this vision, the men sent by Cornelius to fetch him arrived and the Holy Spirit told him to go with them: ‘For I have sent them’ (Acts 10:20).

The Holy Spirit was orchestrating Peter’s daily ministry. The Spirit had been with Cornelius for years until he now inspired him to send for Peter who would lead him, and his family to salvation. Cornelius would demonstrate to the disciples that you didn’t have to become a Jew first before you became a Christian. The Spirit also worked on Peter to ensure he would answer the call. Jesus said it was for our own good that he was going away because then the Holy Spirit would come to us. The Holy Spirit can work on everyone at the same time. When Jesus was incarnate, he could only be in one place at the same time (John 16:7). As born-again baptized Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living within us leading us to the truth and transforming us into the likeness of Christ.

Psalm 74:1-9

The Psalmist called on God to remember his people. They were living in ruins and their enemies had destroyed God’s sanctuaries. No-one knew who long their agony would last as no prophets were left (Psalm 74:9).

We know that God continued to send leaders and prophets to rescue Israel but they were rejected and persecuted.

The great John the Baptist straddled the divide between the Old and New Testament and prophesied the arrival of our Saviour.

When we can’t feel God’s presence and guidance in our lives, we need to continue to pray. Praying in the Spirit is the ultimate reassurance that God is with us, working within us and through us and will never leave us.

God offered the ultimate gift to all who have faith and belief. He offered to the entire world eternal salvation through the sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus Christ.

Image: Jules & Jenny from Lincoln, UK, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

David Mourns for his Son / The Stoning of Stephen: June 12th 2021

2 Samuel 18:19-19:43

Ahiamaaz, son of Zadok, was keen to take the news of Absalom’s death to King David. However, Joab, the commander of David’s army, who had organised the killing of David’s son knew this would not be well received. He asked a dispensable Cushite to deliver the news instead. Joab knew that David had executed bearers of similar news on previous occasions and so it wasn’t a desirable task (2 Sam.18:22).

Ahiamaaz outran the Cushite but didn’t plainly tell David about Absalom’s death. The Cushite caught up and told David about his son’s fate. As Joab had predicted. David did not take the news well but at least he didn’t kill the messengers (2 Sam.18:33).

David wept and mourned for his son – the same son who had betrayed him and wanted him dead. Even though they had won a great victory, his army felt ashamed of their actions. Joab was furious and told David that he had humiliated his men: ‘You love those who hate you and hate those who love you’ (2 Sam.19:6-7). He told David to go and encourage his loyal men or there would be terrible consequences for his rule. To his credit, David accepted this valid criticism and realised his ingratitude. His men had loyally risked their lives for him and he sat down in front of his men (2 Sam.19:8).

It had been a very strange attempted coup. Both sides had been quite civil to each other. King David was generally liked as a monarch and there wasn’t an urgent need to replace him apart from his son having better hair and being slightly more popular. King David didn’t want his son harmed even though he had almost lost his throne to him. The whole affair had left the citizens of Israel and Judah very confused and in conflict with each other.

King David won the hearts of all the men of Judah again and they asked him and his men to return. They met him at the ford over the Jordan to welcome him home. Even Shimei, who had previously shouted curses at David, came to apologise. One of David’s retinue, Abishai, wanted to put Shimei to death for his sins but David rebuked him (2 Sam:19:22) in a similar way to Jesus rebuking James and John for wanting to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54-55). David graciously pardoned Shimei.

Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth, also came to meet David. He explained that he had wanted to travel with David but had been betrayed by Ziba, his servant. David had earlier given Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s fields but on hearing this version of events ordered that they should be split equally. Mephibosheth said he didn’t want any land. He was just happy to see David home safely.

David wanted to repay his ally, Barzillai, for his support but he wouldn’t allow this. David blessed him instead and allowed him to return home. When David crossed over the Jordan, he was accompanied by all the men of Judah but just half the troops of Israel. This caused a large argument between Judah and Israel over who had more of a claim on David.

David was back in charge over a divided kingdom with the two major divisions bickering with each other. David had shown love for those who cursed and attacked him (Absalom and Shimei), he had demonstrated forgiveness of his enemies (the troops of Israel) and taken on board valid criticism (Joab). David had patiently listened to people’s apologies and excuses (Mephibosheth and Shimei) and he had blessed his friends (Barzillai and Kimham). However, he had punished those who had not followed his instructions. He had appointed the leader of the rebel army, Amasa, as commander of his army in place of Job (2 Sam.19:13). Job had stopped the civil war by killing David’s son but this was in defiance of David’s explicit instructions.

Just as God had punished Saul for not quite following his instructions, David was prepared to remove people who did not show complete obedience. David was a master politician and had managed to negotiate a return to his kingdom but he still had much work to do to reunite the nation.

Acts 7:44-8:3

Stephen finished his history of the Jewish nation with the devastating conclusion: ‘However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men’ (Acts 7:48). God was not confined just to the Jewish temple, with just the religious elite allowed to communicate with him once a year. Ezekiel had demonstrated in earlier scripture that when the Israelites had been exiled by the Babylonians, God had travelled with them. God is everywhere and in everything (Acts 7:50) and now, through the Holy Spirit, he is powerfully active within every individual Christian.

Stephen suddenly launched a verbal assault on the Sanhedrin. He even disowned them, calling their ancestors ‘your fathers’ rather than ‘our forefathers’ as he had done earlier. Their ancestors had persecuted all the prophets and had now betrayed and murdered the Righteous One (Acts 7:52). They had not obeyed the law and so, according to their own laws, should die. They would do so if they carried on being stiff-necked, resisting the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ invitation to eternal life through baptism and belief in him.

The Sanhedrin were furious. Truth is often unpopular. Stephen wasn’t bothered. He was full of the Holy Spirit. God was actually now living in him but his persecutors did not recognise God right in front of their furious faces. Stephen was consoled by a wonderful vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen was soon to join Jesus in heaven as he was stoned to death and became the first Christian martyr. Stephen prayed that their sin should not be held against them (Acts 7:60) just as Jesus prayed ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34).

A young man, Saul, approved of Stephen’s death. He wanted to persecute and murder all Christians. He would shortly undergo one of the most dramatic transformations in the history of Christianity.

Persecution broke out and all, except the apostles, were scattered (Acts 8:1). Wherever the disciples fled, they preached the gospel and converted many.

God frustrates the plans of evil people. They had hoped to eliminate the church through persecution but their efforts forced the disciples to travel and evangelise; this made the church grow much faster than if they had been left in peace. It must have been distressing for the early Christians to flee from their homes but the miracles, signs, wonders and fruitfulness that the Holy Spirit worked through them brought consolation. ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Psalm 73:1-14

If we are not careful, we can start to ask ourselves why we bother to be Christians. Why do we suffer the abuse, hassle and pain of being ignored? Is it all in vain?

Non-believers can appear to be more prosperous, more confident, carefree and proud about their healthy and strong bodies.

However, envy is a major sin. We need to count the priceless blessings that God has given us throughout our lives. Our treasure is an everlasting treasure in heaven (Matt.6:19-20).

We should not become like the wicked who scoff and speak with malice (Ps.73:8). ‘From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits’ (Ps.73:7).

Our destinies will be completely different. The wicked are on slippery ground and will suddenly be destroyed (Ps.73:18-19). In contrast, we will enter the sanctuary of God.

No matter how poorly we seem to be faring relative to the secular values of the consumerist world, when the Holy Spirit lives within us we have eternal joy in our hearts which can never be shaken: (Galatians 5:22). We should share with the world our testimony of his glorious deeds.

God will eternally be our refuge and our strength.

Image: ChristianeB, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Absalom Returns / Peter Heals with his Shadow: June 9th 2021

2 Samuel 14:1-15:12

King David’s heart longed for his estranged son, Absalom, just as God hopes and contrives for banished people to come back to him from exile (2 Sam.14:14).

Joab hired a wise woman to persuade King David to invite Absalom back from exile. David wisely saw he was being manipulated by Joab but gave in to the suggestion (2 Sam.14:21).

Joab brought Absalom back to Jerusalem but he was not allowed to see his father King David.

Absalom was very good looking, with not a single blemish, with thick luxuriant hair. He had three sons and a daughter and named his daughter Tamar after his sister.

Absalom did not see the king for two years. Joab refused to come to him until Absalom took the drastic step of setting Joab’s field on fire. Absalom demanded to see the king as he was living in limbo. He wanted to face up to any punishment. Then the king summoned his son, who bowed down before him, and the king welcomed him with a kiss (2 Sam. 14:33). We can live in a similar king of non-living limbo when we have not confessed our sins to God and received forgiveness. We might think our sins are too severe to forgive but God is always calling us to him and he will forgive us with a warm embrace.

Even though Absalom had been welcomed home, he started to conspire against his father the king. He woke up early and stood by the road leading to the city gate. He would intercept people travelling to consult the king, tell him that no-one would be available to listen and boast that he would do much better and give them justice if only he were to be appointed judge. He was very charming and approachable. If someone came to bow down before him, Absalom would take hold of him and kiss him. He disloyally stole the hearts of the Israelites through slander and flattery. He did this for years.

He asked permission from his father, the king, to go to worship in Hebron and David blessed him. He invited two hundred guests to accompany him, to make it look like he was assembling an army and he sent messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say: ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’. He started to steal David’s officials away from him starting with David’s counsellor. Day by day, Absalom gradually weakened David’s grip on power as his following kept increasing.

David was showing himself to be a complacent ruler. He hadn’t dealt with his son Amnon’s crime and now he was letting the kingdom slip away from him.

Acts 5:12-42

The apostles carried on performing miracles (Acts 5:12). More and more people believed in the Lord and joined them. All the believers used to meet together. We need to meet as the body of Christ to praise and worship God and to teach and encourage each other.

Sick people we laid in the street so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them (Acts 5:15). We need to pray for this level of faith, so that just our presence or our shadow can heal the sick and deliver people from evil spirits. Crowds gathered and everyone was healed (Acts 5:16). Jesus had predicted that the apostles would do even greater things than he. Jesus prayed for healing on an individual basis. Peter was now healing people on an industrial scale.

The religious professionals were filled with jealousy and threw the apostles into jail. An angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail in the night and brought them out. He told them to stand in the temple courts and ‘tell the people the full message of this new life’ (Acts 5:20). Everyday, we should publicly tell people that they can lead a wonderful new life in Jesus Christ.

The full assembly of the elders of Israel (the Sanhedrin) gathered to interrogate the apostles but they were not be found in the jail. Eventually, they found them freely teaching in the temple courts and went to collect them. They didn’t use force against them as the crowds would have defended them.

The Sanhedrin reminded the apostles they had been ordered not to teach in Jesus’ name. Peter reminded them that the apostles must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). They, and the Holy Spirit, were witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection. God had exalted Jesus to his right hand as Prince and Saviour ‘that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel’ (Acts 5:31).

It is wonderful to pray in tongues as it confirms the Holy Spirit is living in us because we obey God. The Holy Spirit lives in people who believe and obey God (Acts 5:32).

The Sanhedrin became infuriated and wanted to put all the apostles to death but a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a brilliant teacher of the law who educated Saint Paul, wisely told them to leave the men alone. If they were working for God, they could not be stopped and the Sanhedrin would find themselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39).

The Sanhedrin ordered the disciples to be flogged and not to speak in the name of Jesus and then let them go. The apostles left rejoicing because ‘they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name’ (Acts 5:41-42). In public and going from house to house, they never stopped ‘teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ’ (Acts 5:42). In this county, it is only the Jehovah’s Witnesses who bother going door-to-door telling people about Jesus. Maybe, we should all be inspired by the early church and start with all the houses in our own roads. Knock on their doors, tell them about Jesus and ask if anyone needs to be healed or delivered so we can pray for them. If people won’t go to church, the church will have to go to them.

Proverbs 14:15-24

We should not believe everything we are told and assess it in light of Biblical teaching. However, we do not want to become so distrusting that we give a Spirit of Unbelief a right to attach to us. I believe most things in news reports unless they are completely against the Word of God. We have to be careful in this country because our foremost channel has such an evil, woke, liberal agenda. They even infect their drama programmes with unchristian influences including pro-abortion propaganda. Once we have our eyes opened to how biased a media channel is, it can be quite entertaining to watch just to spot the recurrent toxic anti-Christians themes but we should try to shun such evil (Prov.14:16).

However, when the news has scientists on it who tell me that it a good idea to have a Covid vaccine to stop the deadly pandemic that has devastated the global economy, I believe them. There is clear clinical evidence that it helps and, as we should love our neighbour as ourselves, we should be vaccinated to protect other people. I have lost respect for the leaders of several smaller Christian denominations who haven’t given clear leadership on this matter and put their congregations at risk. The leaders of the mainstream denominations, the Anglicans and the Catholics, have clearly told Christians that they should be vaccinated and, as we are meant to be people of obedience, this should be good enough for us. If we don’t have a vaccine we are putting God to the test, which Jesus reiterated to the devil that we should not do (Matt. 4:7).

We should wisely weigh up the evidence not entertaining all the crazy conspiracy theories that a simple person might believe (Prov.14:15). The prudent are crowned with knowledge and wisdom. Foolishly rejecting a lifesaving vaccine is folly and will yield foolish deaths. God works through people these days. He will have inspired the scientists to make the vaccine in order to save our society.

It isn’t a holy blessing to be poor and to be shunned by people (Prov.14:20). God likes us to prosper through our hard work and his guidance. If we prosper, we can be even kinder to the needy and God will bless us even more.

Image: Masaccio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

David and Bathsheba / Peter and John before the Sanhedrin: June 7th 2021

David’s army, led by Joab, destroyed the Ammonites. David stayed in Jerusalem and got up to serious mischief. Like many famous rulers / politicians he gave in to illicit sexual temptation. It would have been better if he had gone to fight with his army as the devil found sinful work for his idle hands to do.

He spotted from the roof of his palace a very beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing. However, she was already married to Uriah the Hittite. David sent for her and adulterously made her pregnant even though he had lots of wives and concubines of his own. Polygamy didn’t seem to work in the Old Testament. It often caused bitter rivalry between spouses. David showed that even when men had several wives and many concubines, they still weren’t satisfied. They still lusted adulterously after other women.

David sent for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, and he dutifully returned from the war. David sent him home imagining he would have sex with Bathsheba and so cover up that she had been made pregnant by David. However, Uriah was too righteous. He refused to enjoy himself while both the ark of the Covenant and his fellow soldiers were in tents (2 Sam. 11:11). The next night, David plotted to get Uriah drunk but he still refused to see his wife.

David then decided to murder Uriah and made him take a letter back to Joab, instructing Joab to put Uriah in the front line of the battle against the fiercest enemy soldiers and abandon him to fight alone. This plan resulted in Uriah being killed in battle along with some other Israelites. David was now guilty of both adultery and murder – both grave sins, either of which cut us off from God forever in hell if we do not repent.

David wasn’t concerned about the loss of the other men and sent an encouraging message to Joab (2 Sam.11:25).

Bathsheba heard that her husband had died in battle but, after a period of mourning, she became yet another one of David’s wives and bore him a son. God was not pleased with David’s behaviour.

Nathan, the prophet, rebuked David by telling him a story of a rich man who refused to sacrifice any of his many sheep and cattle for a visitor but instead sacrificed the only lamb of a poor man that was ‘like a daughter to him’. David was furious at the man’s behaviour but the man in the story was David (2 Sam.12:7). God had given David so much but he had still carried out evil. Through Nathan the prophet, God told David that his wives would be taken away and slept with by someone close to him in broad daylight before all Israel. David’s sinful behaviour had brought calamity down upon him.

David instantly confessed his guilt. Nathan replied that ‘the Lord has taken away your sin’ (2 Sam.12:13-14) but David still had to bear consequences. His new son would die.

David and Bathsheba’s son did become ill. David desperately wept, fasted and pleaded with God, hoping to change his mind but his son died on the seventh day. When David heard that his son was dead, he washed, changed his clothes, worshipped the Lord and then went back to his house and started eating (2 Sam.12:20).

David’s servants were amazed that he got back to normal so soon after this devastating news but David knew he could not bring his son back again: ‘But now he is dead, why should I fast?’ (2 Sam.12:23). David had failed to change God’s mind but he was not bitter. He still loved God and worshipped him.

David and Bathsheba had a second son, Solomon, whom the Lord loved. Bathsheba isn’t named in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. Matthew wrote: ‘David was the father of Solomon whose mother had been Uriah’s wife’ (Matt.1:6). It is nice that Uriah gets a mention in the New Testament when he was treated so appallingly.

The death of David’s first son reminds me of the doctrine of purgatory. God had forgiven David for his grave sins of murder and adultery but, for the sake of eternal justice, David still had to bear a punishment. The Mother Church teaches us that God will forgive all our sins if we repent and renounce them in confession but all sins carry a time penalty. When we die, we have to spend the period of time that our sins have totted up in a waiting room for heaven – known as ‘purgatory’. During our time in purgatory, we are fully purified and made ready to eventually go into heaven. My favourite way of imagining this is to think of heaven as the perfect garden of Eden, yet hiding under the bushes are the souls in purgatory who are peering out into the beauty of heaven but have to wait to be called out into the full sunlit presence of God. Basically, for every crime we have to do the time. This doctrine neatly explains how a serial killer on their deathbed could confess and (eventually) go to heaven. God will forgive them but for the sake of justice, they have to serve a long sentence in purgatory for their crimes. Other denominations would say that the blood of Jesus wipes away both the sin and the time penalty due for our sins. We will all find out in the end how God’s justice works.

We can all agree that whenever we sin, we should contritely confess to the Lord and hope for his graceful mercy.

Joab succeeded against the Ammonites and captured the royal citadel of Rabbah. He told David to bring the whole Israelite army to capture the rest of the city. Joab threatened to name the city after himself if he had to do all the warfare while David stayed at home (sinning). David took the crown from the Ammonite king, plundered the city and made all the Ammonite people carry out forced labour.

Acts 4:1-22

Peter and John were put in prison for ‘proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead’ (Acts 4:2). Even though they were imprisoned, the number of believers continued to grow exponentially.

The next day, the two apostles were questioned by the rulers, elders and teachers of the law in Jersualem.

Peter was still extremely bold and challenged them as to why they were being called to account for an act of kindness.

The man who had been crippled from birth had been healed by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazarene, whom they had crucified but God raised from the dead (Acts 4:10).

Jesus was described as the capstone / cornerstone on which the whole church would be built even though he had been rejected by the chief priests and the Pharisees (Psalm 118:22-24).

Jesus is our one and only Saviour, ‘there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).

Everyone was astonished that ‘unschooled and ordinary’ men could speak with such wisdom and boldness, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The healed man – who was over forty years old and thus a reliable witness – stood with them. He was living proof of the power of Jesus’ name with a fantastic testimony. When we are healed by Jesus, we need to stand with our fellow Christians particularly when they are undergoing trials and persecutions.

The rulers and elders could not deny that the apostles had performed an outstanding miracle (Acts 4:16). They commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach at all to anyone else in Jesus’ name ‘to stop this thing spreading any further’ (Acts 4:17).

Peter and John boldly replied that they would obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19-20). They were released because no one could decide how to punish them.

All the people praised God because of this outstanding miracle.

Psalm 71:1-8

My hope is in the Lord. I have had confidence in him since my youth and this confidence has grown throughout my life as God rescued me from the miry clay time and time again. I have always relied on him and will always praise him, declaring his splendour all day long (Ps.71:8).

God brought me forth from my mother’s womb.

We can take refuge in God and rely on him. He is our hope and our saviour.

Image: http://www.obraz.org/, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

David anointed King / Judas must be Replaced: June 3rd 2021

2 Samuel 3:22-5:5

Joab, one of David’s commanders, murdered Abner who David had told to go in peace. Joab killed Abner in revenge for the killing of one of his brothers in an earlier battle.

David declared himself innocent of Abner’s death and he cursed the house of Joab (2 Sam.3:28-29). David wept aloud and fasted at Abner’s funeral to demonstrate to his people that he had no part in the murder. Everything that David did pleased the people.

Even though David was the anointed king, he considered himself weak. He felt his kingship was in a precarious position and called on the Lord to repay evildoers for their deeds (2 Sam. 3:39).

Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth, was murdered on his bed by his own men. They took his severed head to David expecting a reward but David was furious and had the traitors killed.

All the tribes of Israel came to David. They knew that David had been the one to successfully lead their military commands while Saul was king. They knew that the Lord approved of him. David was anointed king over all Israel and he reigned for forty years. David was called on by God to ‘shepherd my people Israel’ (2 Sam. 5:2). His descendant, Jesus, was destined to be the good shepherd for all the world.

Acts 1:1-22

Saint Luke wrote ‘Acts’ as well as the Gospel that bears his name. He wrote more of the New Testament than any other single writer including Saint Paul. Luke was a Gentile not a Jew, a Syrian from Antioch. He was a well educated man – a doctor – and when writing his accounts of Jesus and the apostles seems to have had privileged access to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and her friends.

Luke states that after Jesus’ resurrection he gave many convincing proofs that he was alive over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3). Jesus had told the apostles not to leave Jerusalem until they had been baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). The gifts of power from the Holy Spirit are for all that have been called to be Christians. The Holy Spirit will sanctify us and work on changing us from within into Jesus. The more we hand over to him through praying in the Spirit, the more he will be able to mould and shape us so that we reflect Jesus to all we meet.

Jesus had told the apostles to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jesus ascended into heaven but will one day come back (Acts 1:11).

According to Acts, Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, had bought a field with the reward for his wickedness. However, in Matthew, Judas returned the money and hanged himself (Matt. 27:5). The Chief Priests then bought a field with the returned ‘blood money’ for burying foreigners. Luke wrote that Judas fell over in his new field with fatal consequences (Acts 1:18-19) and that is why it was called the ‘Field of Blood’. Either way, no-one lived in this field, as David had prophesied in Psalm 69:25.

Peter had already taken on the leadership of the fledgling church (one hundred and twenty believers) and announced that they must choose one person from the wider group of disciples, who had accompanied Jesus his whole ministry, and appoint them as an apostle to replace Judas. Peter was keen to maintain twelve apostles as there were twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the corner-stone of the Christian faith and must be defended at all times. Some people acknowledge Jesus as a wise teacher but think he sneaked off into obscurity and died a natural death. What would be the point of that? The whole reason Jesus appeared on earth was to defeat the works of the devil, wiping out sin and taking the sting out of death, opening up the way to eternal life for all those who are baptized and believe. Jesus had to die to make us righteous and justified with God through his precious blood being spilled for us all. If he didn’t die, we would still be in a state of eternal sin and not able to enter God’s presence. Only Jesus, the one mediator between humans and God, was able to make us right with the Father. We cannot earn a place in heaven through our good deeds and impeccable behaviour. When men and women refuse the gospel, it is because they have become hardened as a result of sin and their trust in their own works. The only way to the Father is through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 69:13-28

God will rescue us with his sure salvation when we cry out to him. He will deliver us from those who hate us.

As Jesus was on the cross, the floodwaters of our sins engulfed him. He was in terrible trouble as he became sin and God, the Father, temporarily turned his back on him. As Jesus died, the depths did swallow him up and the pit closed its mouth over him (Psalm 69:15). However, the same Holy Spirit, who is within every baptized Christian, raised and resurrected Jesus from hell. With his great mercy, the Spirit turned to him, rescued him and redeemed him. Jesus redeemed us from sin by the sacrifice of his perfect, holy blood.

The scorn of our friends and families for the gospel message we love can threaten to break our hearts (Psalm 69:19-20). We have to turn to our fellow believers to find comfort and sympathy. Jesus literally died from a broken heart as he was crucified due to the physiological changes in his body. He was disgraced and shamed in death but glorified by his triumphant resurrection.

While Jesus was dying on the cross, the prophecy in Psalm 69:21 was fulfilled. He was given vinegar for his thirst.

Jesus sets a banquet out before us. We just have to believe in him and be baptized to be given eternal life. The banquet table set before us is a trap for non-believers; when they die and are judged, they will have to explain how they consistently failed to believe despite the truthful witness of the disciples and billions of other Christians around the world. Their eyes are darkened so they cannot see but only because they chose not to believe, trusting proudly in their own intellect, which will only lead them to death.

We need to praise God that we are listed with the righteous and not blotted out from the book of life.

Image of Saint Mattias: By Workshop of Simone Martini – Public domain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Matthias#/media/File:Saint_Matthias.PNG

Miraculous Catch of Fish / Jesus Reinstates Peter: June 2nd 2021

2 Samuel 2:8-3:21

There was now a civil war between the Israelites who supported the son of Saul, Isah-Bosheth, and David’s men.

Ish-Bosheth ruled Israel and David ruled Judah (2 Sam.3:1).

Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, was insulted by Saul’s son and decided to switch allegiance to David. David demanded that his first wife Michal, the daughter of Saul, should be returned to him. Abner agreed and went on a diplomatic mission to the different tribes of Israel encouraging them to accept David as king in order to unite the nation (2 Sam. 3:18).

John 21:1-25

Jesus appeared again to the disciples. This time, by the sea of Tiberias. The disciples had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Jesus called out to them from the shore (John 21:6).

Simon Peter was so excited to see Jesus that he jumped off the boat into the water to meet him.

Jesus invited the disciples to breakfast. He was already cooking fish on a fire of burning coals. The disciples had caught 153 large fish in their net by following Jesus’ instructions. There isn’t a universal agreement as to whether this specific number has a deeper significance. I think this story shows that the apostles weren’t going to make any progress spreading the gospel by themselves. They had to continue to work closely with Jesus. He knows who has been given to him by the Father; he knows where they are and how to catch them. The Holy Spirit and Jesus reside within us and we need to listen to their instructions to make progress in our ministry. The fish were large ones. We should try to catch the large ones: leaders of nations and other influential prominent people. The early Christian evangelists always tried to convert kings of the countries so that their subjects would then follow their example. For the first time ever, both the leaders of the USA and the UK are Catholic Christians. It will be interesting to see if they make any progress on protecting unborn children.

Jesus reinstated Peter by making confirm three times that he loved him more than anything else. Jesus instructed him to feed and take care of us (Jesus’ lambs and sheep). He did this three times to wipe out Peter’s three denials of Jesus. Jesus predicted that Peter would also be executed when he was old. Eventually, Peter would be crucified in Rome when it was ruled by the demonically deranged Emperor Nero. Peter insisted on being crucified upside-down as he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.

As soon as Peter was reinstated and told to follow Jesus he, true to form, asked Jesus the wrong question. He enquired what would happen to John and Jesus told him to mind his own business.

John finished his gospel with the tantalising statement that Jesus did many other things as well that were not written down (John 21:25). He gave the impression that Jesus worked tirelessly, caring for others, teaching, healing and delivering. Only a few of his most spectacular miracles and vital teachings are recorded.

Since his resurrection and ascension into heaven, Jesus is present in the heart of every baptized Christian encouraging us and urging us to do good works as we follow him. His deeds have now increased exponentially as he is at work in billions of people’s hearts every day. There is no room in the whole world for all the books that would have to be written to record the good works that Christians have brought to the world for the glory of God.

Psalm 69:1-12

Without God we can sink in the miry depths.

We can be flooded with problems, stress and anxiety but God is our firm foothold and our faith in him will enable us to keep our heads above water.

We should always try to lead a life that will not disgrace our fellow Christians (Psalm 69:6).

As born-again Christians, we can feel the odd-one out in our families (Psalm 69:8). It is wonderful to enjoy fellowship at our local church to gain strength from fellow believers when the faith-vacuum of our own family members threatens to drain the life from us.

It is painful to hear people use the name of our Saviour as a swear-word. His name is above all other names and should only be spoken with respect.

Before our baptism, God knew every one of our sins (Psalm 69:5). However, thanks to Jesus’ blood, our sins have been wiped away and we can be spotless in the sight of God. However, to keep spotless we need to regularly examine our consciences and confess any new sins. God always has open arms wanting his prodigal sinning sons and daughters to return to him and ask for his mercy.

When Jesus kicked the money-changers out of the temple he was full of zeal: Psalm 69:9. We should always try to remain as energised and zealous as the day when we were born-again; this takes daily praise, worship and prayer in the Spirit.

Image: Raphael, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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