Sowing and Reaping / Jesus, ‘The Saviour of the World’: May 5th 2021

Judges 2:6-3:31

The Israelites proved to have a short memory. After their remaining great leaders had died: ‘another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel’ (v.11).

They started to follow the demonic entities that the people around them worshipped and forsook the Lord. In his righteous fury, God handed the Israelites over to raiders who plundered them (v.14). He made sure they were defeated in every battle.

When they were in great distress, groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them, God would raise up a judge to save them from their enemies. God was with the judges while they were alive but each time one died, the Israelites returned to ways even more corrupt that those of their fathers: ‘following other gods and serving and worshipping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways’ (v.19). Our society will be like this as the Covid pandemic recedes. Covid shut down the nightclubs and the pubs where people worshipped alcohol and sex. People stopped spending money on frivolous items at department stores, theoretically freeing up disposable income to give to charity. God heard the cry of the frightened and bereaved and sorted out vaccines. Once we have been delivered, people will rush back to the pubs to corrupt themselves even more than before.

God decided not to drive any more enemy nations from the promised land keeping them in place to constantly test Israel’s loyalty to him. The Israelites failed the test. They intermarried with the pagan nations and served their gods.

The first judge was Othniel, a nephew of the legendary warrior Caleb. ‘The Spirit of the Lord came upon him’ (3:10). He defeated the king of Aram and Israel had peace for 40 years until Othniel died. Notice that the Holy Spirit came upon Othniel and empowered him for this leadership task. How much more are Christians empowered today because we have the Holy Spirit living permanently within us? We just have to co-operate and pray for him to activate his gifts within us.

The Israelites committed evil again and so were handed over to the king of Moab for eighteen years. God gave them a new deliverer, Ehud, who stabbed the evil king with a double-edged sword: ‘I have a message from God for you’ (v.20). The Bible tells us that the word of God is a double-edged sword that we can use to metaphorically stab our enemies. Jesus stabbed Satan with sacred scripture during his temptations in the desert. The Israelites followed their new strong leader into battle and Moab was defeated. Then ‘the land had peace for eighty years’ (v.30).

The Holy Spirit gave certain judges supernatural strength and endurance in battle. The next one, Shamgar, stuck down six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad and saved Israel (v.31).

John 4:27-42

The Samaritan woman went back to her town and said: ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ The Samaritans listened to her and came out of the town to see Jesus. After Jesus’ resurrection, when Mary Magdalene told the weeping and mourning disciples that she had see the risen Jesus, ‘they did not believe it’ (v.11). It is wonderful that Gentile Samaritans were hungrily looking for the Messiah when so many Jews had rejected him. We should tell as many people as we can to ‘come and see’ and invite them to a Spirit filled dynamic church so that their lives can be changed.

Jesus sent us out to preach the gospel to the end of the world. Covid has shut down travel to a great extent but we can still tell people about Jesus via the internet. Greetings to my readers right across the world. Our food is to finish his work and proclaim the saving power of Christ.

Jesus saw the town’s people making their way towards him. ‘Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest’ (v.36). Someone must have previously sown faith in the Samaritans hearts that made them long for the Christ. Jesus, and his disciples, could now harvest these believers for eternal life. So many people taught me different bits of the Bible as I grew up; not least, the Anglican vicar who gave me intensive tuition on Christianity before my wedding in a High Anglican church. We might not see any growth or harvest as we talk to people about Jesus but God’s word will germinate in their hearts allowing others in the future to harvest them into heaven.

Just from the woman’s testimony, many Samaritans believed in him (v.39). The Holy Spirit can give us supernatural words of knowledge about people that can not only convert an individual, they can convert others to Christ through that convert’s powerful testimony. The Samaritans urged Jesus to stay with them. He agreed, stayed for 2 days and many more became believers. Hearing Jesus for themselves strengthened their belief in the woman’s testimony enabling them to declare that he really was the Saviour of the world (v.42).

It must have been so refreshing for Jesus to teach people who wanted him there. This is the kind of refreshment we can enjoy when we attend a faith-filled church or go on a Christian retreat. Sometimes, we all need our batteries charged up with positivity which will give us renewed strength to face more challenging audiences.

Psalm 56:1-13

Even kings can be afraid. When King David was afraid, he chose to trust in God (v.3). If God is for us, what can mortal man do to us (v.4) ?

People watch Christians intently. They conspire as they lurk in the shadows, plotting to twist our words, looking for faults. Many people have fallen for the most basic trap of the devil by rejecting Christianity as nonsense due to the terrible sexual sins carried out by a tiny minority of religious professionals. Yet, they would never withdraw their child from school or not attend hospital despite the thousands of teachers, doctors and nurses that have abused the people entrusted to them.

When David called on God for help he had expectant faith that his enemies would turn back (v.9). He vowed not be afraid of any man because of his trust in God. Christians have vowed our lives to God and we should praise and thank him for his saving grace. Jesus has delivered us from death by his sacrifice on the cross. When we believe and are baptized we can forever walk before God, our Father, in the light of life. The Holy Spirit inside us will stop us from stumbling on our journey. God will deliver us from our enemies, ourselves and from death itself.

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/cereals-corn-stalks-spike-grain-4357683/

Marriage / Divorce and Jesus’ Disciples Baptize: May 3rd 2021

Joshua 23:1-24:33

Joshua gave a farewell speech to the leaders of the Israelites before he died. He reminded them that the Lord, their God, would drive out the tribes before them so they could conquer all of the promised land. They must be ‘very strong‘ and obey all that was written in the book of the law ‘without turning aside to the right or to the left’ (v.6).

They must not associate with the nations that remain and not invoke the names of their heathen gods, swear by them, serve them or bow down to them (v.7). Just like us now, they must ‘hold fast to the Lord your God’ no matter what temptations they face.

As the Lord God will fight for them, just one Israelite will be able to rout a thousand enemies. If they turn away, ally themselves with the survivors of their enemies, intermarry and associate with them, this will bring them down (v.12). God will no longer drive their enemies out and their pagan associates will ‘become snares and traps for you, whips on your back and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you’ (v.13).

The instructions are all very clear. However, in the future, sex is going to bring down the entire nation. Lusting after Pagan women will result in intermarriage leading to Israel and Judah being defeated by the Assyrians and Babylonians and led into exile. Even Solomon, the wisest man in history, will be brought down by his hundreds of Pagan wives tempting him to worship other deities.

Sexual temptation is still a massive problem for Christians today. Christians can’t divorce and get remarried. God hates divorce. Yet, we find many Christians, including those who would regard themselves as ‘born again’ divorcing and getting remarried or marrying a divorcee. This is a grave sin that will bar people from heaven. Marriage is permanent and lasts until one of the partners is deceased, The only way a Christian can ‘marry’ for the second time is if their partner dies or they prove that the first marriage didn’t actually exist through an annulment process (for example, proving the first marriage wasn’t consummated).

Christians cannot divorce and get remarried like Pagans do. Christian marriage is for life. Of course, this truth can be very painful but it shouldn’t put people in danger. If people are in abusive relationships they can separate and live apart but, until one of the partner dies or the marriage is annulled, there is meant to be no sex with different people / no extra marriages. If married people fall in love with other people, they can live with them but only as brother and sister. Sex isn’t allowed. This is massively difficult for the modern world to accept. Most people do not believe they can live in a celibate relationship.

This is why marriage should not be entered into without a lot of care and consideration. We must try to ensure we have found our true, lifelong partner before we commit to them. The prophet Ezra had to lead all the Israelites in separating themselves from their Pagan marriage partners in order to make the nation right with God again (Ezra 9:1-44). When we come to God after repenting our past mistakes, we are meant to stop sinning. If we are in an illicit marriage, we wake up each day in a state of grave sin. We have to choose which is more important, obeying God or sex.

The model for a happy celibate marriage is the Holy Family: Joseph and Mary, Mother of God. Mary was a temple virgin – a lifelong vocational virgin – and the temple elders asked the elderly widower, Joseph, to be her guardian to remove her from the temple before she started menstruating. Mary stayed a virgin all her life because she had been dedicated to God.

Joshua pointed out that all of the good promises that God had made had been delivered. God is faithful to us. However, he is also faithful to the threat that his anger will burn against us and we will perish if we serve other gods. It’s a mystery why we haven’t all been wiped out already when we look at the state of the world today. God is being patient with us to save as many as possible but eventually judgement day will fall. ‘He is a holy God; he is a jealous God’ (24:19) Before Jesus made us righteous with God, God would not have forgiven our rebellion and our sins and he still won’t if we don’t approach him through the precious blood of his son by confessing our belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Even Abraham’s father, Terah, worshipped pagan gods. We can be the first generation in our family to convert to Christ. If our parents are still living, we can be an example to them and pray for their salvation. Part of your mission on earth might be saving your own family as you also preach to others.

Choose who you serving today. Are you going to worship pagan entities, demons, yourself or celebrities? Are you going to worship at the altar of consumerist capitalism? As for me, I will serve the Lord.

Joshua made the Israelites witness to themselves that they had chosen to the Lord and would throw away all foreign gods but, with the luxury of the rest of the Bible, we know a terrible fate is awaiting them due to their inability to be faithful.

Joshua set up a stone as a witness against them under the oak tree near the holy place of the Lord: ‘It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us’ (v.27). All of creation seems to be able to record events and play them back, Jesus is in all created matter. Interestingly, some paranormal investigators think that ghosts more frequently occur in old stone-built cottages because the stones record past events and play them back like a DVD player. Jesus preached that objects we generally regard as inanimate do have their own interior life. This probably explains the fascination with rocks and crystals in the New Age movement. Engineers know that crystals such as quartz oscillate at an incredibly precise frequency, which is why they are built into watches. Mountains will fling themselves into the sea if we have enough faith and stones would have cried out on Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem (for his cataclysmic showdown with the devil) if the crowds had not shouted ‘Hosanna’ (Luke 19:40).

Joshua sent the people away to their own inheritance and died (at the age of a hundred and ten) (v.29). The nation of Israel had served the Lord during his lifetime and the lifetime of the other elders who had been direct eye-witnesses of God’s miracles. However, Joshua had not appointed a single successor to keep the whole nation unified. The Israelites had all split into their different tribes. Since Moses had come back to Egypt, having a single leader who could communicate with God and, most importantly, intercede for his people to stop God’s wrath at their disobedience had been vital. The only clear successor they had was Eleazar the Priest’s son, Phinehas, taking over the priesthood. The last few verses of Joshua clear the decks of the older generation – with the bones of Joseph finally being laid to waste. A new chapter in Israel’s history is just about to start.

John 3:22-36

Jesus and his disciples spent some time in the countryside and his disciples baptized people (4:2). People started to flock to Jesus’ disciples rather than John the Baptist who didn’t mind his ministry dwindling: ‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (v.30). This is why the church celebrates John the Baptist’s birthday on the 25th June after the longest day of the year on the 21st June in the Northern hemisphere – the nights are just starting to become longer. Jesus’ birthday is the 25th December – after the shortest day on the 21st – to mark the coming of the light.

The church is the bride of Jesus. He is the bridegroom. John the Baptist was the friend who was full of joy when he heard the voice of the bridegroom (v.29). Jesus came from heaven and is above all. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his conception and the Holy Spirit will also live in us when we become baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are greater than John the Baptist, because the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ has made us justified and righteous in the eyes of our heavenly Father.

‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him’ (v.36).

Psalm 55:12-23

It is particularly hurtful to be betrayed by a friend or close colleague.

When King David called out to the Lord, he was always saved (v.16). God ransomed him unharmed from the battle waged against him.

Jesus ransomed us from judgement for our sins by the shedding of his precious blood. He will always save us if we renounce and repent of our sins and turn to him with belief.

Many people are slick orators but their words are evil weapons. They plan war and disaster. Many will never change their ways and will have no fear of God until their death and the eternal separation from God they have chosen.

We should trust in God and cast our cares on him. He will sustain us.

If we have any worries in our life, we should praise, worship and speak in tongues. This perfect prayer from the Holy Spirit will build up our inner self to know that God ‘will never let the righteous fall’ (v.22).

Image: Image by Gabriel Ballerini from Pixabay

Becoming ‘Born Again’ / Coming into the Light: May 2nd 2021

Joshua 21:20-22:34

Cities were allotted to the Levites (the priests) from all the remaining tribes of Israel. The Levites were to run the refuge cities, such as Shechem, where those accused of murder could shelter before a fair trial.

God had given Israel all the land he had sworn to their forefathers (v.43). The Israelites had acted in faith, conquered and settled there. How wonderful it is to work in partnership with God on a major project. God gave them rest on every side from their enemies. Every one of the Lord’s good promised to the house of Israel was fulfilled (v.45). Praise the Lord. If we become baptized and believe our Lord Jesus will fulfil his promise to us: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’ (Mark 16:16).

The Reubenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh had faithfully battled for the other Israelite tribes to conquer the rest of the promised land even after they had been given territory of their own. They had faithfully fulfilled the promise they had made to Moses. They had riskily left their families behind on the other side of the Jordan in Gilead while they fought. I would assume that God supernaturally protected them while their fighting men were away or they could have been easy pickings for the Canaanites. Joshua blessed these soldiers for their faithful service and sent them home. They did not return empty-handed. They had accumulated massive herds of livestock, precious metals and other plunder taken from their enemies. When we are faithful to our word and work for God, we can also be blessed financially and materially. He warned these departing tribes not to forget God and to always: ‘love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul’ (22:5).

It was an amicable parting of ways as these faithful fighters returned to Gilead but soon there was a massive misunderstanding between them and the rest of Israel. On their journey back home, they constructed for themselves am imposing altar on the Israelite side of the Jordan. This appeared to be scandalous. The only altar to God was meant to be the one before the official tabernacle. The other Israelites were scandalised and ‘gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them; (v.12). Fortunately, before the fighting started, the Israelites sent the son of the priest and a delegation from each of the other tribes to find out why they had done this. They assumed that the tribes in Gilead had already started worshipping demonic entities and this unauthorised new altar was for pagan worship but they wisely went on a fact-finding mission first. They had genuine concerns for their future having witnessed God’s wrath against those who were unfaithful to him.

The tribes who had returned to Gilead were mortified that they intentions had been misinterpreted. They had built this new altar, not for offering sacrifices, but to witness that they would only worship at the official Israelite sanctuary. It was just a replica in memory of the official one, a witness that, even though they lived far away on the other side of the river Jordan, they were still part of Israel worshipping the one God. Phinehas the priest and the leaders were relieved at this explanation and explained it to the rest of the Israelites. They were glad to hear this and war was averted.

The replica altar was given a name: ‘A Witness Between Is that the Lord is God’ (v.34).

It is refreshing to read of a society that is so concerned about not upsetting God. The Israelites had learned through hard experiences that things go much more smoothly for a country when people diligently follow God’s laws. Many of our politicians seem to have no such fear with their condonement of divorce, abortion and lack of respect for Sundays. We reap what we sow.

John 3:1-21

Nicodemus, from the Jewish ruling council came to see Jesus at night. He confirmed that all the council knew Jesus had come from God, ‘for no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ (v.2).

This is why there is no logic to people deciding to be an atheist / humanist / secularist. Jesus was a real historical figure who proved he was the son of God by performing amazing public miracles that were witnessed by thousands of people. If you do not believe in these historical facts, you stand condemned. People refuse to come to the light for fear that their evil deeds will be exposed by it. If you call evil things good and good things evil you will hate the light of truth and avoid it.

Here we have one of the most beautiful phrases in the Bible: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (3:16).

We now come to one of the most fascinating discussions in the Bible. Jesus cryptically said, ‘I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’ (3:3).

Nicodemus was as puzzled as the rest of Christianity: ‘”How can a man be born again when he is old”, Nicodemus asked (v.4).

What does it mean to be a ‘born-again’ Christian and, as it is so vital, how does one become one?

I would regard myself as ‘born again’ as I know God loves me, I love him, I find great joy in reading his word and want to live in a way that pleases him. However, looking back on my life when exactly was I ‘born again’?

I was baptized at the age of one. I went to a Christian school, which had prayers and hymns in assembly and weekly chapel services. My whole class studied the Bible for an O level in Divinity when I was fifteen. My parents occasionally took me to church. However, none of this stopped me carrying out teenage sins or gave me a burning urge to study Christianity further. I always knew that God existed and most days prayed the ‘Our Father’ prayer. The Mother Church would say that when I was baptized, even though I was an infant and knew virtually nothing about it, I would have been given the Holy Spirit, my personal sin would have been washed away and the Original sin I had inherited from Adam would also have gone. The reason I sinned when older was due to the typical human tendency to sin and evil termed ‘concupiscence’.

When I was forty, I visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome and suddenly the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins. He convinced me that there would be judgement and I needed to get my faith life sorted. I joined a course and became a Catholic becoming confirmed at the Easter Vigil. Before and after this, I had a burning desire to find out more about God and Jesus. In theological terms, my confirmation would have strengthened me and activated the Holy Spirit within me to be a more powerful witness for Jesus. However, soon after becoming a fully active member of the church I became very sick and felt like I was dying. I made a dramatic recovery after a charismatic priest prayed a healing / deliverance prayer over me.

A couple of years later, I attended a ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ course and prayed to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. A week later, I started to pray in the Spirit. However, I didn’t do it very much or for very long and started attending a church that was undynamic. A couple of years ago I was laid low by a spiritual attack and I only recovered after starting to also attend a charismatic Pentecostal church. I prayed ‘The Sinner’s prayer’ more than once: ‘Dear Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I believe that you died and rose again from the dead to save me from my sins. I want to be with you forever. Forgive me all the sins I have committed against you. I open my heart to you and ask you to come into my heart and life and be my personal Saviour. In Jesus name. Amen’. God healed me from spiritual attack and drove out the enemy that was causing it. However, I still had issues with habitual sin. God finally strengthened me and sorted me out when I handed over the reins to him and started to pray in tongues for up to an hour a day. The temptation to commit sin melted away.

So looking back, I did receive a seed of the Holy Spirit at my infant baptism. This gradually grew until it burst into life during my trip to Rome. My confirmation made me a stronger enemy of the devil and he tried to snuff me out. The Holy Spirit started to activate more spiritual gifts inside me after my baptism in the Holy Spirit but the true process of sanctification only started once I gave up trying to conquer sin by myself and handed the reins over to God.

The one thing all Christians should agree on is that baptism is vital for salvation. A Christian friend, who feels she is born again, said to me ‘I don’t feel I need to be baptized’. But feelings are irreverent. You might ‘not feel’ you need to possess a valid visa to enter foreign countries but if you turn up on their border without one, you can be turned away. Heaven follows laws and justice. For all we know, there might be a demon with a list on a clipboard objecting to every one who turns up at the gate of heaven without the permanent stamp of baptism on their soul. Baptism permanently marks us as a child of God.

My Pentecostal friends would say that once you have said the ‘Sinners Prayer’ and really believed it you are saved. Also get baptized, get a Bible and read it. However, I am slightly concerned that if my friend thinks she is saved without yet going through the legalistic step of baptism, that our feelings might deceive us in this matter. The gift of eternal life is so precious, we should not skimp on any requirements that Jesus stipulated. Should we be the judge of whether we believe? Shouldn’t that be down to God’s judgement. My Catholic friends would say we cannot presume we are saved, we have to live and die in hope of God’s mercy on us but that might be too gloomy. Not many Catholics speak in tongues. If it was more common, this supernatural proof of the Holy Spirit living within us should give us full faith in our salvation because of Ephesians 1:13 – 14: ‘When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.’

This is how Pentecostals can be so certain that they are saved. Praying in Tongues prove that the Holy Spirit lives within us. His presence within us is a deposit guaranteeing our our inheritance. Acts 5:32 says: ‘We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him’. Hallelujah.

God can do what he wants. If he wants to change any rules, that’s his prerogative. Jesus promised one of the criminals on the cross that he would be in paradise with Jesus that day and it was unlikely the criminal was baptized. We trust in God’s mercy for the souls of children who die before baptism including aborted children. Catholics even believe that unreached people, who have never heard the gospel message, can be saved if they live righteous lives and would have responded to the call to be baptized if they had been told of its necessity. All of us can live righteous lives in accordance with God’s laws that have been inscribed on everyone’s hearts. When Peter was preaching to the Gentile Cornelius, in Acts 10, the Holy Spirit came upon all in his household who heard his message. After they had received the Spirit and had began to speak in tongues and praise God, Peter then orders them to be baptized. So there appears to be no hard and fast rule. We do receive the Holy Spirit during baptism but we could also be ‘born again’ prior to this – either by devotedly asking Jesus to come into our lives or from hearing the word of God. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is inside us, that we have called on the name of the Lord and confessed ‘Jesus is Lord’ and knowing we have been baptized strengthens our faith so we know we are beloved children of God and will receive God’s gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Hallelujah.

Being ‘born again’ does seem to be more than infant baptism. It is an adult consenting encounter with the power of the Holy Spirit that enkindles the fire of faith within us empowering us to manifest the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. We must be ‘born of the Spirit’ (3:8). There seems to be a single time in people’s lives when this happens and people do not forget this conversion experience. It is a memorable moment of transformation and turning fully to God. Speaking to dynamic Christians they can usually recall when it dawned on them that God exists and they wanted to worship him. My wife came this conclusion when she standing on a beautiful hill in the Cotswolds. There was wonderful light, a soft gentle breeze and the quiet peace of nature. The beauty and tranquillity of God’s creation touched her heart and she turned to him.

Jesus confirmed that no-one had yet gone into heaven apart from ‘the one who came from heaven’ (v.13) i.e. him. All the dead of the world up until Jesus’ crucifixion were stuck in hell. The righteous dead were released into heaven after Jesus died, descended into hell and preached the gospel to them. Moses in the desert lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole to save the Israelites from the wrath of God that had been unleashed to punish them for their sins. Jesus would be lifted up on the cross, so that if we look to him and believe in him, the wrath of God because of our sins will be transferred to him. Jesus paid the full ransom price for us once and for all through this precious blood. Jesus came to save us, not condemn us.

Psalm 55:1-11

David prayed for his prayers and pleas to be heard (v.1) He was being troubled by his thoughts. He was distraught and suffering (v.3).

Poor King David was in a bad way for someone of such unshakeable faith. He longed for the wings of a dove so that he could fly from his troubles (v.6). He wanted to hurry to his place of shelter. However, all of us – especially Kings – have to stand and face our demons and we get the strength to do this from the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, the dove of peace, is within us. If we are distraught, we can flee to him by praying in tongues. Handing over our vocal cords to him so that he can pray the perfect prayer for us.

We have a massive advantage over King David we can know Jesus and he will come to live within us and give us shelter. Jesus said: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).

Image: The Chosen press photos (press.thechosen.tv), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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 the Baptist was the new ‘Elijah’ predicted in Malachi (3:5-6): ‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to your children, and the hearts of the children to their parents’.

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

The Ascension Of Christ: April 28th 2021

Joshua 13:1-14:15

Joshua was now incredibly old. He had wandered around in the desert for forty years under Moses’ leadership before he was finally allowed to lead the Israelites into the promised land. God pointed out that there were still large areas of land to be taken over (v.1). The Israelites had not yet faced one of their toughest adversaries – the Philistines. God said that he himself would drive out another tribe, the Sidonians (v.6) on behalf of the Israelites.

The captured land was all fairly divided among the tribes of Israel. The Levites, from whom the priests came, did not receive an allocation of farmland to pass down their generations. God was their inheritance (v.32). They were given ‘towns to live in, with pasture-lands for their flocks and herds’ (14:4).

Caleb had been one of the original twelve spies forty-five years ago sent into the promised land and had set his heart on living in Hebron. Moses had sworn to Caleb that this area would be his inheritance. It is wonderful that Caleb, at the age of eighty-five, still had his middle-aged ambition to conquer Hebron and he had kept his mind and body fit to achieve his dream: ‘I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then’ (v.11). Even though it was populated by giants, the Anakites, living in large and fortified cities he was confident that with the Lord helping him: ‘I will drive them out just as he said’ (v.12). He demanded that his inheritance should be delivered to him: ‘Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day’ (v.12). This shows we should never give up chasing our Godly dreams. With God’s help, we can do anything. We can finish our lives still full of character and strength and power. We should never retire from the work of God. There is always more territory to wrestle from the enemy. With God on our side, who can stand against us?

Joshua was true to Moses’ word. He blessed Caleb and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. Caleb had been a tremendously faithful assistant to both Moses and Joshua. With a small army of Calebs, imagine what good we could do in the world. Hebron has belonged to his descendants ever since ‘because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly’ (v.14). It is no good being wishy-washy lukewarm followers of the Lord. God wants dynamic, wholehearted followers who always put his righteous ways at the top of their agenda.

Luke 24:36-53

Jesus appeared to his disciples and said, ‘Peace be with you’ (v.36). We can only find true peace when we know that Jesus is present in our heart as our Lord and guide.

The disciples were able to physically touch Jesus. He was fully alive even though he could mysteriously appear and disappear and still bore the marks of his crucifixion. He had flesh and bones and ate ‘a piece of broiled fish’ (v.42). Interestingly, Jesus said: ‘A ghost does not have flesh and bones’. He did not say, ‘There is no such thing as ghosts’. So we have Jesus himself confirming what humans have long experienced. Spirits of deceased people can occasionally haunt people and locations. Not only are there ghosts, Fortea (p.89) states that ‘the souls of the condemned can possess someone in exactly the same way as a demon’. They insist that they are deceased human beings even when commanded, in the name of Jesus, to tell the truth.

Jesus confirmed that he was written about in the Old Testament in ‘the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’ (v.44). He opened the minds of the disciples so that ‘they could understand the scriptures’ (v.45). Every day, we should pray to God, before our Bible study, for him to open our minds and teach us the deeper meaning of the Word of God.

The disciples must preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations, starting in Jerusalem (v.47). They were instructed to stay in the city until they received the Holy Spirit: ‘until you have been clothed with power from on high (v.49). Once we have been baptized and have prayed for the Holy Spirit to give us a full measure of all of his gifts, pressed down, shaken and overflowing in our lives, we can demonstrate this same power from on high.

Jesus ascended into heaven near Bethany. He was taken up into heaven while he was blessing his disciples. ‘They worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy’ (v.52). The disciples obediently remained in the city, praising God continually at the temple. They had witnessed awesome sites and soon it would be time for them to be empowered to spread the gospel to the rest of the world, willingly suffering persecution and death to share the message of salvation with us all.

Psalm 52:1-9

It is not wise to boast of evil. We should guard what comes out of our mouths: ‘Is it kind, is it true, is it necessary?’ Boasting is not necessary. We should give God all the glory for the great things he has done in our life.

Our tongue is the most powerful organ in our body and can be used for good or deceitful evil, ‘Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor’ (v.2).

Many people these days ‘love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth’ (v.3).

God will bring deceitful, wealthy boasters to ruin, particularly those who grow strong at the expense of others.

If we trust in God’s unfailing love, we will flourish like a fruitful olive tree. Instead of boasting of ‘our own’ achievements, we should praise God ‘for ever for what you have done’ (v.9). We place our hope in the very good name of Jesus; the name that is above all other names. I praise Jesus, in the presence of his saints, for his life, teaching, death and resurrection. Thanks be to God.

Image: Sharon Mollerus, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Resurrection / The Road to Emmaus: April 27th 2021

Joshua 11:1-12:24

All the Northern kings came together to fight the invading Israelites. They joined forces at Merom (v.5).

God told Joshua not to be afraid because, by the next day, they would all be handed over to Israel, slain (v.6). Joshua was instructed to burn their chariots and hamstring their horses after their defeat. This meant cutting the large tendon on the back of the horses’ knees, which made them unusable for warfare. Sounds horrible but this is a fight for survival. This may have been a test from God because horses and chariots would have been very useful when invading the promised land. Perhaps, the Israelites had no experience of chariot warfare or God still wanted them to walk into battle, completely dependent on him.

Joshua obeyed God completely and none of his enemies survived. ‘He hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots’ (v.9). God hardened the hearts of the enemies of Israel to keep waging war against Israel so that they might be eliminated completely (v.20). Only the sneaky Gibeonites had managed to make a peace treaty through their subterfuge. Joshua wiped out the enemies of God as Jesus wiped out the demons that he encountered. Both sets of enemies would have quaked at their names. Joshua means exactly the same as the name Jesus: ‘the Lord saves’. Joshua worked with God to conquer all the Israelites’ enemies during the time that he led them. Jesus conquered all of humankind’s past, present and future enemies through his death on the cross.

Joshua destroyed the race of giants from the hill country, the Anakites (v.21). The Anakites were descendants of the mysterious Nephilim. The Nephilim may have been genetically engineered as part of a demonic plan. It has long been debated as to whether demons can have sex with people. Traditionally, a ‘male’ demon, an incubus, develops an obsession with a young woman and oppresses her, visiting her in the night to rape her and jealously attacking any male human who tries to have a relationship with her (see the book of Tobit). Meanwhile, the ‘female’ equivalent, the succubus, visits men at night to have sex with them. Demons can’t create new life / eggs or sperm themselves so what is the point? Many people think this was the first attempt at IVF and that the incubus and succubus are the same creature and can morph from one to another. The ‘female’ succubus harvests sperm from men, the sperm then has it’s DNA manipulated before it is used to inseminate a human woman, by the same demon changing into an incubus. The result is a human woman becoming pregnant with demonically manipulated sperm. The resultant child has strange powers and is loyal to and controlled by the fallen angels. These progeny were of great height and strength – the Nephilim. This is why God wanted them wiped out as they were demon-worshipping abominations. They were present both before and after the flood, because the demons simply engineered more of them after the first generation were drowned.

‘Joshua took the whole land’. ‘Then the land had rest from war’ (v.23).

Luke 24:1-35

The women visited the tomb on the first day of the week (our Sunday) to anoint Jesus’ body. This is why Christians rest and worship on Sunday (and not on the Old Testament Sabbath / Saturday). The stone was rolled away from the tomb and the body had gone. Two angels ‘in clothes that gleamed like lightning’ (v.4) reminded the shocked women that Jesus had said he would rise on the third day.

‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ (v.5). Jesus had achieved the greatest ever victory over the devil when his death on the cross wiped out our sin, making us righteous before God and opening the gates of heaven so we may have eternal life. Now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he had been raised from the dead and death had been defeated forever.

The apostles did not believe them. Not because they were women but ‘because their words seemed to them like nonsense’ (v.11). Here we can clearly see that James is not Jesus’s actual brother. Mary, the mother of James in verse 10 is ‘Mary of Clopas’. Mary was an extremely common name. Mary, the Mother of Jesus / God, remained a virgin for her entire life. She had been dedicated to the temple as a vocational virgin at a very young age. Being a virgin was her job.

It was wonderful that Peter, the human leader of the church, should be so excited by the women’s reports that he alone got up and ran to the tomb (v.12). He saw the strips of linen lying by themselves – which may, according to legend, be still with us today as the Turin shroud. Jesus’ image was burnt onto them by intense UV as he was resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit. ‘The only known explanation for the formation of the image is an intense burst of vacuum ultraviolet radiation (equivalent to the output of 14,000 excimer lasers) emitted from every three-dimensional point of the body in the Shroud’ https://www.simplycatholic.com/shroud-of-turin-evidence-of-jesus-resurrection/.

Jesus joined two disciples on the road to Emmaus but ‘they were kept from recognising him’ (v.16). God can prevent people from recognising Jesus and his works and he can also harden people’s hearts so they choose not to come to him. This is a mystery. If we have not been given the gift of faith we should pray to receive it after first making a decision to ‘believe’ the gospel. Belief comes first and then we tell people about it – stepping out in faith. Then our faith will grow. ‘Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.’ The spirit of unbelief is rife at the moment. Look at how people have denied Covid. We should bind this spirit, in the name of Jesus, and pray that our ugly, hardened, unbelieving heart can transfigure into a beautiful, childlike, trusting one. ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’ (Psalm 51:10).

The two disciples were treated to the greatest scripture lesson of all time as Jesus, ‘explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself’ (v.27). It caused their hearts to burn within them as he ‘opened the scriptures to them’ (v.32). We should get just as excited at reading our Bibles on a daily basis as the word of God cuts into our life like a double-edged sword. I got so excited recently when I realised that Jesus himself frequently appeared in the Old Testament (these appearances are called Christophanies). Jesus not only created Adam and Eve in his image, giving them life by breathing into Adam’s nostrils, he loved to spend time with them and walk with them in the cool of the evening. He lovingly clothed them with garments of skin after their fall. The first animals to die in Eden had to shed their blood to cover man’s sins. Now, with his own death, Jesus restored Adam and Eve back to their right relationship with God by washing away their sin with his precious blood.

The Emmaus disciples still did not recognise Jesus until ‘he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them’ (v.30). They got up and rushed back to tell the disciples. When we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we encounter Jesus in the breaking of bread. We should rush to tell others when we have finally recognised Jesus and our eyes have been opened.

Psalm 51:10-19

This is King David’s penitential prayer after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. David was truly penitent for this terrible sins. He acknowledged his iniquity and so still qualified as a man who pleased God. We too can be forgiven, no matter what sins we have committed, if we humbly renounce them and repent.

We should pray that God should purify our heart and renew our spirit (v.10). By praying in tongues on a daily basis, the Holy Spirit will edify us. He will build us up, strengthen us and make us steadfast (resolutely firm and unwavering).

It would be disastrous if God were to cast us from our presence or take his Holy Spirit from us. God can restore to us the joy of his salvation and will sustain us, through our willing spirit (v.12). When we visit a Pentecostal church we can witness to the joy of salvation. It is fitting for us to praise God joyfully ever day of our lives.

In return for all that God has done for us, we need to teach people who do not yet know him his ways. Sinners will turn back to him (v.13). Our songs will sing of his righteousness because Jesus bought our salvation, he paid for our guilt, through the sacrifice of his perfect and holy blood.

When we pray in the Spirit, we can more effectively declare our praise for God. God is close to the broken hearted. He sometimes lets our spirit become broken, humble and contrite so that we will turn to him and become stronger and more effective at being his witnesses throughout society. God works for the good for all that love him.

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

Jesus dies on the Cross: April 26th 2021

Joshua 9:16-10:43

The Israelites finally found out they had been deceived by the Gibeonites, who had pretended they lived very far away but were actually neighbours (living only three days away). The cunning Gibeonites had conned the Israelite leaders into swearing an oath not to destroy them.

The Israelites had to conform to their oath but used the ‘small print’ to put the Gibeonites under a curse enslaving them as woodcutters and water-carriers forever. This was better than being annihilated and they were now allied to the winning side.

News of this frightened the king of Jerusalem, Adoni-Zedek, because Gibeon was an important city, much bigger than the conquered city of Ai and the Gibeonites were good fighters (10:2). Yet, they had simply given up and begged for peace with Israel. He joined forces up with the other four Amorite kings and marched on Gibeon to attack it as a punishment for selling out to the Israelites.

The Gibeonites asked for help from Joshua, as they were now the servants of the Israelites, and Joshua came to their rescue with his entire army. God approved this plan. They took the Amorite forces by surprise who were also thrown into confusion by God. The Amorite survivors fled and ‘the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky’ (v.11).

Joshua said to God, in the presence of all the Israelites: ‘O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon’ (v.12) and God obliged. ‘The sun stopped in the middle of the day and delayed going down about a full day’ (v.14). The Lord demonstrated he was fighting for Israel by listening to Joshua’s faithful prayer and acting on it. God controls the movements of all the celestial objects. He sent a star to appear over where Jesus was born, which would have caused a massive upheaval in the entire solar system.

Joshua captured and killed the five kings who had attacked him and went from city to city conquering them, subduing the whole region in one campaign and leaving no survivors. ‘He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded’ (v.40). Here, we can clearly see that God is not to be messed around with. He loves us but he is a fearsome, awesome God. He had left these Amorite cities to build themselves up and become prosperous but they never turned to him in gratitude and worship. They had prostituted themselves by worshipping demonic entities and performing human sacrifices. Eventually, just as the inhabitants of the world were wiped out by the flood, apart from Noah and his close family, God’s divine justice and retribution will come. We all need to ensure that we have fully turned to God and we revere and worship him before our death and / or before the end of the world – which could be tomorrow if God so desires.

Luke 23:26-56

The soldiers made Simon from Cyrene carry Jesus’ cross for him. According to medieval legend, the word for this cross had come from the tree of mercy in the garden of Eden. Adam’s son, Seth, had journeyed back to the entrance of Eden to find help when Adam was dying. Of course, the angels would not let him in but Saint Michael gave him a branch from the tree of mercy. Seth brought it back to Adam but it was too late. Adam had died. Adam was buried at Golgotha, under where Jesus’ would die on the cross and soak Adam’s dry bones with his blood and water. Seth planted the branch over Adam’s grave and it grew into a miraculous tree. King Solomon tried to use the timber for making the temple but it was too supple and so he made it into a bridge. The Queen of Sheba refused to cross this bridge because she foresaw that the wood would cause the end of the Jews. King Solomon cut down the tree and buried the wood deep underground from which a miraculous healing spring came which fed the pool of Bethesda, where healing miracles took place (John 5:1-9). Eventually, a large log of wood floated up to the top of the pool and this wood was eventually used for Jesus’ cross. Several centuries after Jesus’ death, the cross was retrieved by the Empress Helena and taken back to Rome. Fragments of the true cross were distributed around the world. I have seen two fragments: one in an exhibition at the British museum and another at Lluc monastery in Majorca.

Jesus is mourned by women as he passed by. He predicted that the Jews would go through terrible traumas after he is gone. Jesus prayed for God to forgive the people responsible for his crucifixion: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (v.34). However, we are all responsible for Jesus’ death because we are all sinners. He died to become sin for us and make us righteous and justified before God.

People sneered at Jesus saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One’ (v.35). They missed the point. Jesus freely gave up his life to save us from our sins. God would have sent a legion of angels to prevent Jesus being arrested but Jesus did not want this to happen. He wanted to obey God’s plan for the redemption of mankind. Notice the demonic ‘if’ in the verse. This reminds me of Satan using the word during Jesus’ forty days in the desert: ‘If you are Son of God, tell this stone to become bread’ (Luke 4:3). we need to make sure we never use a demonic ‘if’ when we are talking about the Holy Trinity or our faith.

One of the criminals on the cross says the beautiful, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (v.42). He will be the first person to go to paradise with Jesus. Jesus, as fully God is omnipresent, and so would be in heaven with him. Jesus, was also fully man, and, as a man who had taken on all our sins to become sin, would have to journey down to hell. God the Father had temporarily turned his back on him until he was resurrected by the Holy Spirit. Jesus journeyed to hell on the most audacious rescue mission of all time to rescue Adam and Eve as both their saviour and their son. Jesus died for people, past, present and future. He journeyed to hell to preach the gospel to all the faithful that had gone before him allowing them to go to heaven. What a fantastic reunion it must have been with all the patriarchs: Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, David etc. as Jesus rescued them from their chains while Satan impotently watched his kingdom being emptied.

Jesus promises the criminal on the cross that he will go to heaven even though it is likely he wasn’t baptized. Just the desire for baptism is sufficient and God can do what he likes. Of course, we want to be submerged completely at baptism if this is logistically possible but God is not going to quibble about the amount of water used or which parts of our body were submerged or that we can’t get to any water because we are nailed to a cross.

We have to reflect on whether we will turn to Jesus as the wiser criminal did or reject, sneer, insult and mock him as the other one did and foolishly remain unconverted until our dying breath.

‘The curtain of the temple was torn in two’ (v.45) showing that any Christian can now approach God, our Father. No longer could only the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies just once a year to offer sacrifices to cover our sins. Jesus’ sacrifice wiped away our sin once and for all.

The centurion, a gentile, witnessed Jesus’ death, as the sun stopped shining and darkness came over the whole land and concluded: ‘Surely this was a righteous man’ ‘(v.47).

Jesus was buried by his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. According to legend, Joseph was a tin merchant who looked after Mary and Jesus, after Mary was widowed. The hymn ‘Jerusalem‘ is based on the legend that Jesus and Joseph visited England during the ‘hidden years’ before Jesus started his public ministry. Jesus may have been very well travelled and may have gone on a world tour before his ministry to assess how best to reach the people of the world. The Orthodox Ethiopian church maintain that Jesus and his mother, Mary, visited Tana in Ethiopia during their four year flight from Israel.

Another medieval legend is that Joseph of Arimathea made a staff from the thorn tree from which Jesus’ crown of the thorns was fashioned. The actual crown of thorns is normally kept in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris but was removed for safe keeping during the fire in 2019 https://www.eutouring.com/crown_of_thorns_notre_dame.html.

Following Jesus’ death, the legend is that Joseph travelled to Glastonbury in England with the staff and the holy grail – the cup from which Jesus drank at the last supper. On Wearyall Hill, Joseph planted his staff and it miraculously grew back into a tree – the Glastonbury holy thorn. It always flowered at both Christmas and Easter. Unfortunately, this is one of the most vandalised trees in the world. It was first cut down by Puritans, during the England Civil War, who wanted to wipe out religious superstition causing millions of pounds of loss to our historical inheritance. Fortunately, cuttings had been taken from the tree and it grew back. However, the original tree kept having its branches lopped off. It may not be a coincidence that Glastonbury is a centre for New Age, witchcraft and a major music festival, that doesn’t have an overly Christian ethos. Fortunately, other cuttings survive and the current ‘sacred tree’ is in the grounds of St. Johns churchyard. A flowering sprig is cut from it every December and sent to the Queen to decorate her Christmas table https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-16072789.

Proverbs 10:21-30

Words from the lips of wise people, or messages within their blogs(!), nourish many (v.21). People of understanding ‘delight in wisdom’ (v.23) whereas foolish people die because they fail to judge between good and bad (v.21). We see this today when people fail to come to Jesus, because they fall for one of the most basic traps of the devil: they look at the sexual scandals within the church and conclude that Christianity is worthless. People are weak and Christians are all people struggling with sin. Every profession has had issues with trusted individuals letting the majority down. There have been multiple doctors and nurses who have murdered their patients. There have been hundreds of school teachers who have seduced their pupils. All types of professionals have committed evil acts. Foolish people would not refuse to go to hospital or send their children to school because of them. However, they seize on any scandal identified in the church as proof that Christianity isn’t worth following: ‘A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct’ (v.23).

We have a clear statement that the Lord’s blessing can bring wealth (v.22). Many of God’s friends over the generations have been exceedingly wealthy: Abraham, Daniel, Joseph, Jacob, Job, David, Solomon. God doesn’t have a problem with money, ‘he adds no trouble to it’ (v.22). He has a problem with people who love money more than they love him.

The righteous will get what they desire (v.24). They will stand firm for ever (v.25), take refuge in the Lord (v.29) and never be uprooted (v.30). The fear of the Lord adds length to life (v.27).

When we are sent to people, we must never be lazy so we don’t irritate them (v.25). We must be a blessing and show people that ‘the prospect of the righteous is joy’ (v.28).

The Gibeonite Deception / Jesus before Pilate: April 25th 2021

Joshua 8:1-9:15

God reassured Joshua that he was back on his side, now that the disobedience of Achan (who stole articles from Jericho that had devoted to demonic entities) had been dealt with: ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged’ (v.1).

We can all rely on God’s promises when he clearly speaks to us. God told Joshua that the city of Ai had been delivered into the hands of the Israelites – all they had to do was attach it. After the upcoming victory, the Israelites would be allowed to take all their possessions and livestock from the defeated city. Ai had obviously not been quite as corrupt as Jericho. God is a master strategist and the Holy Spirit, the master of wisdom, will tell us the best way to accomplish any holy task. Joshua was instructed to set an ambush behind the city.

Joshua drew out all the fighting men from Ai and made them pursue the Israelites. Every single man unwisely left the city, It was a simple matter for the Israelite ambush hidden to the West to enter the undefended city, capture it and set it on fire. The main army of the Israelites turned to fight their pursuers once the city had been captured and the men from the Israelite ambush left the captured city and attacked the army of Ai from behind. God had formulated a perfect military strategy. The Israelites killed all the 12,000 inhabitants and hung the king of Ai on a tree. The city was turned into a permanent heap of ruins. Killing all the men and women sounds harsh by modern standards but they were all worshippers of demonic entities and they couldn’t be allowed to pollute the faith of the Israelites and corrupt them. The Israelites had to follow God’s precise instructions to preserve their precious relationship with him. They depended on his favour completely. They took all the livestock and plunder from the devastated city but only because God had permitted them to do so (v.27).

Joshua renewed the covenant with God at Mount Ebal. He built an altar of uncut stones on which they offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings (v.31). Joshua copied the law of Moses onto stones and he read out all the law again to the whole assembly, including women and children and foreigners who lived among them (v.35).

Things were looking up for the Israelites again. If they kept being obedient to God, following his laws and carrying out his instructions perfectly, everything would work out easily for them.

All the kings West of the Jordan heard about the total annihilation of Jericho and Ai and came together to make war against Israel. So what! They didn’t have the one true God fighting for them. Bring it on. It was similar to when the modern nation of Israel was established in 1948. The Jews were almost immediately attacked by Arab armies from five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The aggressors were never going to win. The Israelites are God’s holy people and he had promised that territory to them.

The people of Gibeon decided they could only survive the onslaught of the Israelites by trickery. They sent a very ragged delegation, pretended that they were from a ‘distant country’ and asked for a treaty (9:6).

The Israelites were slightly dubious, They couldn’t make a treaty with someone who lived near them. as they would need to take over their territory and annihilate them. The Gibeonites said they were from ‘a very distant country’ (v.9). They pretended they had travelled for weeks by packing mouldy bread, worn-out sacks, old wineskins and by wearing old clothes and patched sandals.

The Israelites made yet another terrible mistake. They did not ask the Lord whether the Gibeonites were telling the truth before Joshua made a peace treaty with them (v.15). Moses would have asked the Lord. We should consult with God throughout the day about any decisions we have to make. The Holy Spirit living within us will let us know what is true and what is our best course of action. Secular people say: ‘follow your gut feeling’. As baptized Christians, we know that the font of all knowledge, the Holy Spirit, does not live in our guts. He lives in our hearts.

Luke 22:63-23:25

The chief priests asked their captive, Jesus, ‘Are you then the Son of God?‘ Jesus replied ‘You are right in saying I am.’ (v.70).

‘I am’ is a reference to the most holy name of God revealed in Exodus 3:13-14: ‘God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you’.

In John 8:58, Jesus said, ‘before Abraham was born, I am’. He was claiming equality with God by using the holy name.

I totally agree with the Jews that no-one should ever say the formal name of God, the one beginning with a ‘Y’. It is totally holy and worthy of our utmost respect. We should always say ‘The Lord’ instead.

The chief priests tried to have Jesus condemned by Pilate by falsely accusing Jesus of opposing ‘payment of taxes to Caesar’ (23:2). They thought that a threat to the Roman income would be a good way to get Pilate fired up.

Pilate was keen to release Jesus. Pilate had no concern for a dispute about someone claiming to be king of a conquered nation: ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man’ (23:4).

However, Pilate was too weak to let Jesus go straight away. He sent him to the evil Herod for a second opinion. This Herod was the son of the King Herod who had tried to kill Jesus, as soon as he was born, by massacring all the young male children in the surrounding area.

Herod was ‘greatly pleased’ (v.8) to see Jesus. He had enjoyed listening to John the Baptist, until he had his head cut off. Many evil people are fascinated by holy men. They are drawn to the power and truth of their words. God always draws people to him, no matter what their background and reputation is. Herod wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle to order as a kind of parlour magic trick. ‘Jesus gave him no answer’ (v.11) so Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. They sent Jesus back to Pilate and that day, the former enemies, Herod and Pilate were reconciled. Quite often, evil people who hate God find they can get on with other groups or individuals they normally dislike if they can unite in support of an evil act, such as abortion,

Both Pilate and Herod were prepared to let Jesus go after unfairly ‘punishing him’ to show off their power. There was ‘no basis for your charges against him’ (v.14).

The crowd shouted for a convicted murderer, Barabbas, to be released instead of the innocent Jesus (v.18-19).

Barabbas’s full name was actually ‘Jesus Barabbas’ – as Jesus was a relatively popular name at the time. Jesus meaning ‘God is salvation’. Barabbas is an Aramaic name meaning ‘Son of the Father’. So the choice for the crowd was between two men both named Jesus, one called ‘Son of the Father’ and the other one actually son of the Father.

Jesus died in place of a convicted murderer as he was also dying to release the entire human race from the death sentence for our sins.

For the third time, Pilate tried to release Jesus but the shouts of the crooked crowd prevailed. Pilate caved in to the pressure. He decided to crucify our innocent saviour just because the crowd kept on shouting. Pilate was guilty. Leaders have to continue with the strength of their convictions, they cannot cave in to pressure.

We have to keep our faith to our final breath and refrain from mortal sin that could jeopardise our place in heaven. Many pastors teach, ‘Once saved, always saved’ but that is nonsense. When we are saved, we have to stop sinning to remain saved. A person cannot say they are saved and then continue to work in an abortion clinic killing unborn children everyday. They will go to hell without full renouncement of their profession and repentance. A serial killer can’t continue with their crimes after meeting Jesus without divine retribution. The biggest threats to our everlasting salvation are the grave sins of adultery and murder that are so commonplace in our modern society. Everyday medical practices such as IVF, or the morning-after contraceptive pill, open up the opportunity to kill a human being just as the baying crowd participated in our innocent Saviour being killed. Every fertilised embryo is a human being. If we have helped created them, we need to be very careful what happens to each and every one of them.

The Mother Church teaches that no-one can be certain of their salvation. We know that baptism is necessary to be saved but the judgement on our individual salvation belongs to God. Presumption is a sin and exists in two kinds. We can presume upon on our own goodness (hoping to able to save ourselves without help from above) or we presume ‘upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit) (CCC,2092). We all have to hope in God’s mercy and die with ‘God, have mercy on me a sinner’ on our lips.

Psalm 51:1-9

We have a beautiful psalm today containing a wonderful everyday prayer: ‘Have mercy on me O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin’ (v:1-2).

A Catholic priest prays for this washing and cleansing before the prayer of consecration in the Holy Mass. The priest must wash his hands at this point because he is about to touch the very bread of life himself.

We were all sinful at birth (v.5), sinful from the time our mothers conceived us because we inherited ‘original sin’ from our ancestor Adam. We are all born with an in-built urge to do bad things and be disobedient to God. We are all born with a sin which is ‘the death of the soul’ (CCC, 403). We have an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence”. When we are baptized, all original sin and personal sin is erased and we turn back to God. However, we remain weakened and inclined to evil and so need to invite the Holy Spirit fully into our life to give us power to overcome sin. The Holy Spirit living in our hearts will sanctify us (make us holy) if we allow him to.

The Holy Spirit will also teach us wisdom in our most inmost place (v.6).

When we are baptized we are cleansed from all sin and are ‘whiter than snow’ (v.7).

When we make a valid confession, it is like receiving a loving hug from our Father, welcoming us back home. Our sins aren’t just forgotten, they are completely deleted. If you are ever asked to attend an exorcism, be warned; a demon possessing someone likes to name out loud the sins of everyone else present in the room. The more embarrassing and incriminating the better. It’s as if a demon can just read our sins out from a book. We must be sure to attend an exorcism with no unconfessed sins. Then the demon can say nothing about us, our sins have been deleted from God’s face. God has blotted out our iniquity (v.9). Thanks be to God.

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

The Fall of Jericho / Betrayal of Christ: April 24th 2021

Joshua 5:13-7:26

One of the pleasures of reading the Old Testament is to spot when Jesus unexpectedly turns up. On several occasions, Jesus (the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God) makes an actual physical appearance and does or says something significant. These Old Testament appearances are known as ‘Christophanies’.

Jesus became incarnate of the Virgin Mary in the era of New Testament but one of the hardest concepts to grasp in the Bible is that time means nothing to God. The past, present and future are all the same to him. He knows what we are going to choose to do before we do it as he knows the future. So, as James pointed out (James 2:21-24), Abraham was not considered righteous just because of his faith. Abraham was considered righteous because he, in the future, would offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice on an altar. God mashes our faith and our future deeds together: ‘You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone (James 2:24). Similarly, even though Jesus didn’t become a baby until the year AD 1, he was able to travel back in time as both God and Man to create the world in Genesis 1, walk with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8), talk to Abraham (Genesis 18:1-33), wrestle with Jacob (Genesis 32:22-31) and abort the assassination of Moses (Exodus 4:24-36).

When it comes to Joshua 5:13-15, the jury is out as to whether this is actually Jesus talking to Joshua or an angel. Some pastors think this is Jesus because ‘Joshua fell face down in reverence’ (v.14). The argument is that an angel would have told Joshua to stand back up because angels are not to be worshipped. However, there is a big difference between reverence and worship. Reverence is to show ‘deep respect’ for someone or something and so it is legitimate to revere an angel – particularly this one because he is obviously none other than my boss, Saint Michael, ‘the commander of the army of the Lord’ (v.14). I belong to the Order of the Knights of Saint Michael and so I am a big fan. Saint Michael obviously thought it was fine for Joshua to fall face down because ‘the place where you are standing is holy’ (v.15). He told Joshua to take his shoes off as well.

However, here is some further confusion. One minute, it is Saint Michael holding a drawn sword in his hand speaking to Joshua but from the beginning of Chapter 6 it says, ‘Then the Lord said to Joshua… ‘. So the mystery person may have been Jesus after all. Maybe both Jesus and Saint Michael were there. The author has not explained this clearly enough. If I was marking Chapter 6, I would highlight it in red and write, ‘Joshua, you must try harder!’

God / Jesus told Joshua how to defeat the besieged city of Jericho. It was already a done deal: ‘I have delivered Jericho into your hands’ (6:2). The Israelites had to march around the city blowing trumpets once a day for six days but on the seventh day, they had to march around it seven times. Then, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall of the city would collapse and every man could rush straight in (6:2-5). The Israelites had started a working partnership with God. If they carried out certain actions to show their faith, he would carry out the supernatural miracle to enable the task to be completed. The plan might sound far-fetched but as the river Jordan had just dried up in front of them, the Israelites had full faith in both God and Joshua.

Joshua commanded that Rahab and her family would be the only inhabitants of Jericho to be spared because she had hidden the Israelite spies (v.17). As the walls were due to collapse, I would have been nervous for Rahab who actually lived in the wall of the city but her house was left standing (v.22). The Israelites shouted, the wall collapsed, they all rushed into the city and destroyed every living thing (apart from Rahab, her parents and her family). From being the disgrace of the family, because of her profession, she became their saviour because she recognised who the true God was and that he was fighting with his people. She had faith in the God of the Israelites. Rahab, and her family, had to stay outside the Israelite camp (v.23) as they had been contaminated by the devil worship in the city and their lifestyles. Eventually, Rahab was assimilated into society and became one of Jesus’s ancestors after she married a Jew named Salmon and gave birth to Boaz.

The Israelites burned the city to the ground and Jacob cursed it so it could never be rebuilt. With this second major miracle, Joshua’s ‘fame spread throughout the land’ (v.27).

An Israelite called Achan looted from Jericho some of the items that had been devoted to demonic entities. This was strictly banned. This made God very angry just as he gets very angry if we bring back dubious souvenirs from abroad such as Buddha statues or African masks, which might be infested by all sorts of evil spirits. Putting the wrong types of objects in your house can put a curse on it. My wife and I are rejoicing that now that my children have moved out we can get rid of all the dubious childhood items they collected that might affect the atmosphere in the house: Harry Potter books, Pokémon cards, soft toys, dolls, videos and music. We have had a complete clear-out. I need to stock up on holy water to bless the newly organised cupboards.

Incidentally, many children are scared of the cupboards in their bedroom. If demonic activity is going to start anywhere in a child’s room, it is often in a cupboard. It is dark for a start and these creatures avoid the light, but also kids store their commercial rubbish in these cupboards. Many items have dodgy spiritual associations. Cupboard doors often open ‘by themselves’, items fall off shelves and roll out of the cupboard. On the other side of my city in a council house, there was reputed to be an incubus, a sexual demon focused on women. This one kept organising the shoes of its young female victim in her cupboard. I talked to an exorcist from London at a conference once and he said the two most common locations he found demons were in council houses and hospitals. Pubs weren’t far behind.

The Israelites were expecting an easy victory against the inhabitants of the city of Ai but, unbeknownst to them, God was no longer protecting them due to Achan’s sin. Achan had secretly taken some of the plunder from Jericho and hidden it under his tent. When the Israelites attacked Ai, they were routed and thirty-six of them died. This is what happens to society when individuals start sinning. Many people think what they do in the privacy of their own house or bedroom won’t hurt anyone else. However, God sees everything. If he is upset at the sins people are carrying out – other people get hurt as he withdraws their protection and stops answering people’s prayers. God tells Joshua that the Israelites will not be able to stand against their enemies until any objects devoted to demonic entities are removed. God whittled down the Israelites through a selection process to show Achan was the guilty party. Only then did he admit to coveting items from Jericho, taking them and hiding them.

Achan, the devoted items, and all his belongings, including his sons and daughters were taken out to a valley and destroyed. This seems harsh as it was only recently in Deut: 24:16 that Moses declared; ‘parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for your parents; each will die for their own sin’.

However, Achan had let a whole nation down. The Israelites had been given a fresh start with God, yet almost immediately covetous greed started up and, as a result, innocent people died. Sin kills and God takes it incredibly seriously. Sin affects the whole of society. There is no such thing as a secret sin that doesn’t affect others. Think of humanity as a beautiful hot air balloon ascending up to heaven. If everyone in the world lived a faultless life, we would keep on rising together. However, whenever anyone sins, even in the ‘privacy’ of their own bedroom, a little bit of warm air is leaked from our balloon and eventually the whole of society starts sinking towards an inevitable crash. We might be personally trying to live a God fearing life and keep confessing our sins as soon as they happen, but next door there might be someone committing adultery or taking home abortion bills with no apology to God. The billions of hidden sins that take place every day in our world are why only the ultimate sacrifice of God’s beloved son, Jesus Christ, was sufficient to atone for our iniquities.

Luke 22:39-62

Jesus had long known he was going to die a horrendous death. I have an icon on my kitchen wall, ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Succour’ which depicts Jesus as a tiny child being comforted by his mother Mary after two archangels had shown him the objects of his crucifixion. He didn’t just die – like you and I will. He was converted into sin – every sin that anyone would ever carry out, past, present and future. If any of us should murder someone or commit adultery tomorrow or next week, Jesus suffered pain because of that particular sin when he was on the cross.

Jesus would rather not have been tortured in this way but he totally submitted to the will of God, ‘yet not my will, but yours be done’ (v.42). ‘An angel from heaven appeared to him strengthened him’ (v.43).

Jesus was adamant that his disciples should pray that they should not fall into temptation. This should also be our daily prayer. We have to keep strong to the end without the stain of unconfessed serious sin on us.

Even when Jesus was betrayed by his friend and arrested, he still cared for his enemies. He healed the servant of the high priest, Malchus, whose ear had been cut off in the fracas. This is Jesus’ last miracle before his resurrection. One would hope that Malchus would have testified in Jesus’ defence at his trial or at least convert to Christianity.

Peter reached the all time low point in his life when he lied and disowned Jesus three times. As soon as Jesus was arrested, Peter fell back and ‘followed at a distance’ (v.54). Many people follow Christianity at a distance today. They want to have one foot in the camp of eternal life and the other foot in the secular world. We need to commit to Christ or it is too easy and tempting to slip away. Imagine if Peter had fought to the death to prevent Jesus being taken. He could have been a hero but he quickly obeyed Jesus’ call to drop his weapons. However, we know Peter eventually recovered in spectacular fashion after being empowered with the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. His temporary weakness made him stronger in the end and compassionate to sinners. Peter gives hope to all disciples that we can repent, receive tender forgiveness, dust ourselves off and still achieve wonders for the glory of God through the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

Psalm 50:16-23

Wicked people today hate God’s instruction and laws (v.17). They use their mouth for evil, condoning adultery and abortion and try to eliminate religion from all spheres of society. They want to forget the historical facts of Jesus’ life and even try to use terms such as the year 2021 CE rather than AD – because the term ‘AD’ (‘Anno Domini’, the year of our Lord) is an everyday reminder that God became man 2,021 years ago to save humanity. By using the term CE, you are denying that Jesus is Lord and choosing to consign yourself to everlasting suffering in hell.

Many people call bad things good and accuse good things of being bad. They harness their tongue to deceit (v.19).

Most secular people have no idea how far away from God they have become. They are being gently led down the path to everlasting destruction thinking they are not as bad as infamous murderers, thieves or paedophiles yet they cheat with regards to their financial affairs, commit adultery with their eyes and cheat on God with man-made idols. If they do not repent, they will be torn to pieces.

Our first step back to God is to give him thanks. We need to apologise if we have forgotten him when things were going well. We owe all the good things in our life to our heavenly Father. God is always looking out for us, with outstretched arms and will run to gather us up when we sincerely turn to him. We just have to renounce, repent and hand over control of our life to him.

Saint Paul wrote that when we confess. ‘Jesus is Lord‘ with our mouth and believe that God raised him from the dead in our heart, we will be saved (Romans 10:10). However, Jesus said: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’ (Matthew 16:16). The church has always believed that baptism, or at least the desire for baptism is vital for our salvation. As Jesus commanded us to be baptised, our desire to follow his wishes proves that when we confessed ‘Jesus is Lord’ we actually meant it. If we refuse to be baptized, Jesus obviously isn’t our Lord as we are rejecting his command. As James pointed out, we are considered righteous by what we do e.g. requesting to be baptized, not by faith alone (James 2:24).

Jesus won our salvation through his sacrifice on the cross. It is tragic when people have their hearts so hardened by sin, they do not turn to him and ask to be saved.

Image: Unterlinden Museum, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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