Jesus feeds the Five Thousand: April 2nd 2021

Numbers 33:1-34:29

‘At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey’ (v.2). Trendy, modern theologians sometimes try to suggest that the first five books of the Old Testament were written by different authors other than Moses. I think this is complete nonsense and agree with Jewish history. Moses wrote the Torah (the Pentateuch or ‘Five Books of Moses’). To justify the irritating multiple author theory, some theologians rudely suggest that Moses couldn’t even write. As he had been brought up with Pharaoh’s son in the Egyptian royal palace, Moses would have received a fantastic education. Today, we see some more clear evidence of Moses’ journalistic skills.

The Egyptians ‘were burying all their firstborn’ – when the Israelites had set out from Rameses – ‘for the Lord had brought judgment on their Gods (v.4). Humans can get caught in the crossfire as the one true God, our Father, shows his omnipotence over all other pretenders to his throne.

‘Aaron was a hundred and twenty-three years old when he died’ (v.39). Servants of God can live fruitful and long lives. Aaron even had to climb up a mountain to die (Mount Hor) implying he was still relatively mobile up until the end. Aaron had a long and fascinating life, seeing wonders and tragedies. He had witnessed all the miracles of God in Egypt and the Exodus. However, he had seen two of his sons die before the Lord due to their disobedience (Lev. 10:1-3). He hadn’t complained about this, he kept silent. Silence is a great strength as exemplified by Saint Joseph in the New Testament. Aaron kept the faith until the end. He gave a magnificent example of how to support a brother in their ministry.

When the Israelites invaded Canaan they were meant to destroy ‘all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places’ (v.52). Many Western people bring back carved images from Eastern religions as souvenirs from their travels and install them in their houses – often in pride of place. God will not appreciate that type of behaviour. If we are Christians, we should only have Christian objects in our houses.

God advised them to drive out all the inhabitants of the land or they ‘will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in my your sides (v.55). It’s easy to watch the wrong type of films or click on the wrong type of news website and see unsuitable images – in the secular world we have to be be on our guard against ‘barbs in our eyes’, which can hook us into sin.

Joshua, Eleazar (the priest) and Caleb were among the familiar names that God appointed to carve up the entire promised land between the nine and a half tribes. God will continue to use us for bigger and bigger projects if we show him we are reliable.

Luke 9:10-27

Jesus fed the five thousand. It is wonderful how Jesus assigns this task to his disciples, ‘You give them something to eat’ (v.13). He expects his followers to learn from him and then demonstrate practical, fruitful results.

At Jesus’ instruction, they organised the crowd. Splitting the five thousand up into groups of about fifty. Just because a miracle is about to take place doesn’t mean there has to be disorganised hysteria. Miracles can take place in a calm setting. The five loaves and two fish were multiplied by the power of God and when God provides, He provides generously. There was far more food left over than they started with. I wonder if everyone commented that it was the best fish and bread that they had ever tasted – like the fantastic wine Jesus produced at the Cana wedding.

Peter won ‘Disciple of the Year’ for correctly identifying Jesus as ‘the Christ of God’ (v.20). Peter was starting to demonstrate one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit – the Gift of Knowledge.

Jesus warned us about pursuing empty careers – just to gain money or prestige, ‘what good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self? (v.25). So many jobs are a total waste of time and life. We need to critically assess our careers. If a job is just to gain money and we spend our lives filling out spreadsheets or performing other meaningless tasks, we should change our career. If no-one needed us to do our job during the Covid pandemic (apart from the vital hospitality industry that supports travel) it must be questionable if anyone really needs us to restart the same career once everything returns ‘to normal’. Even many of the backroom jobs in ‘key’ industries are a total waste of effort and wouldn’t be missed. Often, the more senior (and better paid) roles in a company, are some of the most pointless. Many of the best paid managers spend most of their day hampering and distracting their subordinates from carrying out useful work. We need to all be key workers serving the public carrying out one or more of the corporal acts of mercy: feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; clothing the naked; giving shelter to travellers; visiting the sick; visiting the imprisoned or burying the dead.

The imprisoned don’t have to be officially detained at her Majesty’s pleasure. Any lonely person living by themselves counts.

Proverbs 8:22-31

Wisdom was the first of God’s works (v.22). We know from John 3:3 that Jesus created the world, ‘Through him all things were made’ and so wisdom, from the Holy Spirit, accompanied Jesus as the heavens were set in place, ‘when he marked out the foundations of the earth (v.29).

Wisdom was ‘filled with delight day after day rejoicing always in his (Jesus’) presence’ (v.30).

How can we welcome wisdom into our lives?

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 9:10). Jesus is ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Wisdom is waiting to help us out. We just have to ask for it to come into our lives. It rejoices in Jesus’ presence (v.30) and delights in mankind (v.31).

Picture: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/7667661950/

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

Numbers 27:12-29:11

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 8:1-18

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

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

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

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

Psalm 38:13-22

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

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

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

Refusing to enter the Promised Land and Jesus, the Chief Exorcist: March 22nd 2021

Numbers 13:26-14:45

The spies returned from the promised land after 40 days and gave a truthful report to Moses. Caleb was all for going in and taking possession of it. He wasn’t afraid of any giants.

The other spies were scared. They didn’t believe that God would keep to his promises and help them to conquer the current inhabitants: ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are (v.31)’

All the spies, except Caleb and Joshua, told blatant exaggerations and lies about the land to the Israelites, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. ‘All the people we saw there are of great size’ (v.32). Lies can be very powerful when they are exaggerations of the truth. Some of the people they saw were of great size, but not all.

The mysterious Nephilim were mentioned (v.33) from which the giants are descended – see also Genesis 6:4, where they are describe as ‘heroes of old, men of renown‘. The enormous Philistine, Goliath, who fights David (1 Samuel 17) is thought to have descended from this race of giants.

The whole community rebelled again showing just how quick they were to disbelieve God’s promises.

The Israelites proposed going back to Egypt – where they lived in bondage and their baby boys were being executed. They wanted to go back to certain slavery instead of even testing God’s promise of freedom.

Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb tried to persuade them how fantastic the land was and that they will ‘swallow‘ up the current inhabitants of the promised land because ‘their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us’ (v.9). There was no reason for the Israelites to be afraid with God on their side.

The moaning of the Israelites annoyed the Lord again even though he is ‘slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion’ (v.18) and He was going to strike them down with a plague and destroy them. Moses told him that this would be bad for his image. People would say that God was not able to bring the Israelites into the promised land and so slaughtered them instead.

Moses asked God to forgive the grumbling Israelites, which he quickly did but they still had to face punishment. None of the current adult Israelites (twenty years old or more) – apart from Caleb (and Joshua) would be allowed to see the promised land due to their contempt and disobedience. Caleb ‘has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly’ (v.24), said God. We should all try to have a ‘Caleb-spirit’ and enthusiastically follow and obey the Lord. Everyone was sentenced to be suffering shepherds in the desert for 40 years (including poor Joshua and Caleb).

The spies who had spread the bad report about the land were struck down with a plague and died.

When Moses told the Israelites about their 40 year sentence they mourned, realised they had sinned and headed off towards the promised land. Too late! We have to learn to seize the gifts of God when they are offered, not throw them back in His face, later regret our actions and then try to take them in our own time.

The disobedient Israelites refused to turn back to the Red Sea and headed off into the promised land without Moses, the ark and (most importantly) God’s help even though they were warned it would end in disaster. They were duly attacked and defeated. It’s easy to understand why God was so annoyed with them but I am sure we have all blundered around in our own lives, been disobedient and ungrateful to God and later tried to do things all by ourselves. We need to listen to God, follow him exactly when he wants us to and rely on his promise to help and deliver us.

Luke 4:14-37

‘Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit’ (v.14). His ministry starts out so well, ‘everyone praised him’ (v.15).

Jesus predicted that he won’t get much of a reception in his home town with reference to the difficult ministries of Elijah and Elisha. We can find preaching to our own friends and relatives the most difficult task of evangelisation. If we have been born again after a secular childhood. they may think we are still the old sinful people they grew up with and were comfortable with. They can become furious with the suggestion that they too can turn their lives around and confront their own sins.

We are meant to proclaim good news (the gospel) to the world as anointed, baptized, confirmed, Baptized in the Spirit, born-again Christians, having received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus used ‘gracious words’ (v.22). It can be tempting to become heated when people simply do not acknowledge the greatness of love of God. We should just sow little gracious seeds in their hearts and show patience and kindness.

The crowd want to throw Jesus off a cliff, ‘But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way’ (v.30). Jesus was under supernatural protection up until the time of his crucifixion. His guardian angel was the captain of the angelic army, Saint Michael and Jesus was also fully filled with the Holy Spirit. If we are working on God’s business, the Holy Spirit can make us invisible / not noticeable to our enemies or He can throw our enemies into total confusion meaning that we, as servants of God, can slip by, crossing borders / passing through checkpoints with impunity. Our pastor thinks nothing of visiting countries in the midst of civil wars as she firmly believes that machine-gun toting rebels simply won’t notice her.

Jesus is instantly recognised by a demon ‘I know who you are – the Holy One of God’ (v.34)‘. Trendy theologians might try to suggest the ‘possessed man’ was mentally ill but this not correct. The man was possessed by a fallen angel who knew full well who Jesus was. Jesus lovingly created all the angels (‘through him all things were made’ John 1:3). Each individual angel forms its own unique species and they all ‘have intelligence and will; they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures’ (CCC. 330). The fallen angel recognised his creator, which most humans fail to do today. However, angels are a lot smarter than we are and have been around since creation (CCC, 332). Jesus in his role of Chief Exorcist swiftly delivers the possessed man. We can do the same if we invoke the name of Jesus in faith: ‘Be quiet! Come out of him, in Jesus’ name!’

(Incidentally, what directions should be give to an exorcised Spirit? Where should they go? We don’t want them hanging around or coming back. ‘Go to the foot of the cross for Lord Jesus to judge you as you are, in Jesus’ name’). Jesus is the judge, not us.

People were amazed at Jesus’ authority and power as they should be amazed today at God’s power wielded through Holy Spirit filled Christians delivering people through the name of Jesus for the glory of God.

Psalm 36:1-12.

We have to pray to the Holy Spirit to reveal to us how we have sinned and continue to sin otherwise there is a danger of flattering ourselves and not detecting or hating our sin. The Holy Spirit wants to continuously sanctify us – making us holy enough to enter heaven and once we have asked Him into our lives, He will nudge and guide us to give up habits we might be unaware were a problem. We can’t earn a place in heaven by being holy but God hates sin and if we want to hear from him in this lifetime we want to have clean hands and a pure heart. Since praying for longer period of time in the Spirit, I have been nudged to give up secular music, most films and most newspapers and I receive more frequent flashes of inspiration / words of knowledge as I purify my life.

God loves us just as we are (‘how priceless is your unfailing love!’ v.7) and salvation is a priceless gift from God that cannot be earned – but the more we try to become like his Son the more the Holy Spirit communicates and works through us.

We should lie on our beds and plot good, committing ourselves to un-sinful courses. God allows the devil to tempt us but always gives us enough grace to conquer all temptations, rejecting that is wrong.

King David marvels at God’s love. faithfulness, righteousness and justice. There is no favouritism with God, ‘Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings’ (v.7).

When Jesus fed the 5,000, there were baskets of food left over. There is always an over-abundance of provision from God: a ‘feast’ (v.8), a ‘river of delights’ (v.8) and a ‘fountain of life’ (v.9).

Image by falco from Pixabay

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