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

Joshua 17:1-18:28

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

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

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

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

John 1:29-51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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