History of the Human Race / Paul: Righteousness: July 26th 2021

1 Chronicles 1:1-2:17

Today, we have a historical record that lists the descendents of Adam. It is both sad and hilarious when people think the world is billions of years old, when the history of the human race is documented in the Bible and the Jews have counted the years since creation for us. On Jewish New Year 2021 (6th to 8th September), Rosh Hashanah, year 5,782 begins.  

There are some famous names in Adam’s family tree. It’s interesting to see where the tribes mentioned in the Bible came from. One of the sons of Noah, Ham, had a son named Canaan who was the father of the Canaanite tribes such as the Amorites (1 Chron.1:13).

Another one of Noah’s sons, Shem, was the father of the ‘Semites’ from whom Abraham was eventually descended. Then of course we have Esau and Israel (Jacob) 1 Chron.1:34). The twelve sons of Israel are listed in 1 Chron.2:1.

Judah’s daughter-in-law bore him Perez and Zerah. Perez was the ancestor of Ram from whom eventually we get Boaz (who would marry Ruth), Obed, Jesse and King David (1 Chron.2:13).

Romans 9:22-10:4

After Jesus died for the whole world, Gentiles were given the chance for salvation. Non-Jews such as I have been given the grace to repent, believe in Jesus, become baptized and hope for salvation. Hosea prophesied that this would happen (Rom.9:25).

All the people in the world can become ‘sons of the loving God’ if we repent and believe (Rom.9:26). Unfortunately, in many countries around the world just a remnant of people choose to believe and to be saved (Rom.9:27).

It has been the greatest ever gift for the non-Jews to obtain righteousness as a gift through faith (Rom.9:30). Israel had been trying to obtain righteousness through religious deeds and had failed. It had rejected Jesus (Rom.9:31-32). Jesus was the cornerstone of the church and a stumbling stone for Israel. In their overzealous religious pursuit of righteousness through deeds, the people had shown their hatred of God by crucifying his son.

If we trust in Jesus, we will never be put to shame (Rom.9:33).

The Israelites had sought to establish their own righteousness by busying themselves and running around like a Martha. They should have just sat down quietly and glorified in listening to Jesus like a Mary. The offer of righteousness is still on the table, they just have to repent and believe and, as Christians, it is our heart’s desire for them all to become our brothers in Christ (Rom.10:4).

Psalm 89:14-18

The foundation stones of God’s throne are righteousness and justice (Ps.89:14).

God radiates love and faithfulness to all before him. He is our glory and our strength.

When we repent and accept Jesus into our lives and acclaim God, we are blessed. We will forever walk in the Lord’s presence (Ps.89:15) and rejoice in his name. We exult the free gift of righteousness that we have received through Jesus’ death on the cross.   

We brandish our shield of faith against the attacks of the enemy and that shield belongs to the Lord (Ps.89:18).

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Hosea: God’s Love for Israel / Paul: Praying in Tongues: 24th July 2021

Hosea 10:1-11:11

Israel was described as a ‘spreading vine’. As the country prospered, the people bult more altars to their demonic deities and ‘adorned their sacred stones’ (Hosea 10:1). They had deceitful hearts and now must bear their guilt.

They litigated against each other as they took false oaths and broke secular agreements. Lawsuits are described as ‘poisonous weeds in a ploughed field’ (Hosea 10:4). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a land where we didn’t need a legal system, where everyone acted lawfully and honourably.

The golden calf idol would be taken into exile into Assyria. The people and the idolatrous priests would mourn for it. The pagan high places and altars would be destroyed and become overgrown.

The Israelites had been committed sinners since the terrible crime of Gibeah in Judges 19. God had arranged the war against the Benjamites to punish them for their sexual misdeeds and he would punish the whole of Israel when it pleased him (Hosea 10:10). So it is hardly surprising that our countries get involved in so much conflict and strife when our people commit similar crimes against God.

We should sow righteousness and ‘reap the fruit of unfailing love’. We have hard unploughed ground in our hearts that the Holy Spirit can break open to reveal a loving heart of flesh. When Jesus died for us on the cross, he showered righteousness on us (Hosea 10:12).   

The Israelites had planted wickedness and reaped evil having ‘eaten the fruit of deception’. They had made the mistake of relying on their own strength and their own warriors rather than relying on the Lord. (Hosea 10:13). This is why God was so upset with King David taking a census of his fighting men (1 Chronicles 21:1).

God planned to devastate the fortresses of Israel and destroy the king of Israel.

God loved the nation of Israel when it was just a fledgling nation and he called it out of from slavery in Egypt. He lifted the yoke from their necks, led them with kindness and fed them. However, the more God called, the further the Israelites went from him.

God would never give up his people entirely, despite their unfaithfulness. God would have compassion for them and show them his forgiveness. When he roared like a lion, the fugitives from Egypt and the people that had been exiled in Assyria would come trembling back to their land and God would resettle them in their homes (Hosea 11:11).

Romans 8:18-39

The whole of creation ‘has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth’ due to its bondage to decay (Rom.8:22). Ever since Eden, the state of the world has been on a steady downwards slide. Humans have become weaker. Our immune systems are breaking down. Allergies are becoming more common. Animals and plants have become extinct, ecosystems have been destroyed and the climate has become less stable. Unbelievers are frantic to reverse this as the earth is all they have but the best we can do is to slow down the process. Christians groan inwardly waiting for eternal life. We know this dying planet will not last forever and is destined to be replaced with a new glorified version. However, we are called to be good stewards of God’s wonderful creation in the meantime. We can all do our bit to lessen our impact on the planet: I drive an electric car, recycle, have installed solar panels and am planning to eat tofu for lunch.  

The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. When we do not know what we should pray for, if we have been given the gift of praying in tongues we can hand over our vocal chords, tongue and lips to God and he prays the perfect prayer for us and those around us (Rom.8:26). The Holy Spirit intercedes for us ‘in accordance with God’s will’ (Rom.8:27) and his prayers will be answered.

We now have the classic verse: ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Rom.8:28). When we are Christians and bad events / challenges happen in our lives, we can be secure in the knowledge that God is working behind the scenes to bring good out of them.

God knew from before we were conceived, whether we would love him and believe in his son. God doesn’t see time in the linear way we do, he knows everything we are going to do in the future. That doesn’t mean we didn’t exercise our free will to turn to him but because God knew we would choose to be one of his children, he gave us grace and called us from when we were born. Everyone, even the most devout atheist has been given enough grace to respond to God should they chose to do so.

God foreknew all who would choose to be Christians. We were predestined to make our freewill choice having been given the gift of saving grace. We were called and we responded. Through Jesus’s death we are justified. We are glorified through Christ Jesus (Rom.8:29-30).

The greatest example of predestination (apart from Jesus) was that of the Virgin Mary. God knew that when she was a teenager she would agree to be the mother of Jesus, becoming the mother of God. Jesus couldn’t be conceived by a sinner and so God made Mary ‘full of grace’ from the time of her conception.

God created and rules the entire universe and so ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Rom.8:31). He does not condemn us and did not spare his own son to rescue and redeem us. He will  ‘graciously give us all things’ (Rom.8:32).

Jesus is at the right hand of God and is interceding for all Christians. We can shrug off unjust accusations and charges against us. We only care what God thinks about us and have no fear of other people’s opinions. We conquer all through him who loves us.

Nothing in the whole of creation can separate us from ‘the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.8:39). This phrase gives us everlasting comfort.

Praise be to God.

Psalm 89:1-8

Let us all sing of the Lord’s great love and faithfulness for ever (Ps.89:1).

His love for us stands firm for ever (Ps.89:2).

This psalm also hints at the existence of a heavenly council of minor ‘gods’ that God created and rules over (Ps.89:7). It mentions ‘the assembly of the holy ones’ (Ps.89:5) and ‘who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?’ (Ps.89:6). The heavenly beings could equally be angels with Saint Michael the archangel’s name meaning ‘Who is like God?’

As assembly of lesser heavenly beings is a tempting theology as it explains many ancient religions and the Greek and Roman pantheon but these beings, if they even existed, are irrelevant now as God judged and confined them, after they failed to live up to his standards. Our modern-day theology is confined to the Holy Trinity, angels and demons.

We join in with the heavens in praising your wonders, O Lord (Ps.89:5).

Image: bobosh_t, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hosea: On Israel being Unrepentant / Paul: Struggling with Sin: 22nd July 2021

Hosea 6:1-7:16

Even though God may sometimes tear us to pieces spiritually, he always has plans to heal and rebuild us better and stronger on the third day, so we may live in his presence. We can miraculously recover when God shows his power as the dry bones did in Ezekiel 37.

We must acknowledge the Lord because he will surely appear as reliably as the arrival of the different seasons.

The Israelites love for God was always temporary and would evaporate ‘like the early dew’ (Hosea 6:4). Therefore, God unleased his spokespeople on them – the prophets – who cut them into pieces and killed them ‘with the words of my mouth’. God’s judgement ‘flashed like lightning upon you’ (Hosea 6:5).

God always wants mercy, not sacrifice. He wants to be acknowledged.

The Israelites had broken their covenant with God. Their cities were filled with wicked men. Even bands of priests committed murders. Israel had defiled and prostituted itself. Judah was not much better and would be dealt with in time (Hosea 6:11).

God remembered all their evil deeds. Whenever he wanted to restore the Israelite’s fortunes and heal them, the sins of Ephraim were exposed – ‘as the largest and most influential of all the northern 10 tribes, Ephraim’s name was often used as representative of the northern kingdom (Israel)’ (MacArthur, 2021, 1127) – and the crimes of Samaria (the capital city of Israel) were revealed (Hoses 7:1). This shows the major problem the human race has with sin. It is such a massive barrier to our relationship with God that it would take the monumental death of the son of God to fix this issue for ever.

The kings of Israel kept being assassinated by their treacherous subjects but even when faced with death, the idol-worshipping kings did not call on God. Jesus would also be plotted against and killed but he always called on his Father.

The Israelites in their arrogance did not return to the Lord or search for him (Hosea 7:10). They were easily deceived, senseless and fickle calling to Egypt for help one day and Assyria the next.

It is strange that doves are described in Hosea 7:11 as ‘easily deceived and senseless’, yet the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove at his baptism (Matt.3:16). Jesus described doves as having an ‘innocent’ character (Matt. 10:16).

Hosea prophesied that God would rain destruction on his people because of their rebellion, lies, insolent words and evil plots against him. They had strayed away from God when all he wanted to do was redeem them. Their leaders would fall and other countries would ridicule them.

Romans 7:7-25

Paul stated that he would not have known what sin was except through the law (Romans 7:7).  However, in modern times, a country’s written laws often have to play catch-up with people’s sins. Many people defend themselves in court with ‘legal loopholes’, that have to be blocked off by additional legislation. The conscience of a person who has been made righteous with God, tells them which acts are sins because we have God’s law written on our hearts. God’s law is ‘holy, righteous and good’ (Rom.7:12).

We can take some solace from the fact that even Saint Paul struggled with temptation but he was probably under severe demonic attack, ‘for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ (Rom.7:15). Even after we are baptized and all our sins are wiped out, human beings still have a wounded nature and a residual tendency to sin that theologians term ‘concupiscence’. People want to sin to assert their self-will.

God give us sufficient grace to resist all sin but we still have to engage our willpower to overcome our tendency to commit sin. I find that after praying in tongues as much as possible, the Holy Spirit removes my desire to sin, which makes life a lot less stressful. I couldn’t free myself from ingrained habitual sin, I had to hand my problems over to the Holy Spirit and he sorted me out.

If we do give into sin, we have a remedy in that we can confess to God, receive a hug of forgiveness and carry on joyfully with life restored in his love. As Christians, our sins start to niggle and bother us until we repent and make amends. We love God’s law and can only be at peace when our lives are in obeyance to it. Who can rescue us from our sinful bodies of death? (Rom.7:24).

Thanks be to God for sending us a redeemer to rescue us – Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom.7:25).

Psalm 88:9b-18

The psalmist was extremely depressed when he wrote this and despaired that ‘darkness is my closest friend’ (Ps.88:18). Even when we lose companions and loved ones we are never alone. We now know that Jesus Christ is our closest friend and in him, there is no darkness. He is the light of the world.

The people living in darkness has seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’ (Matt.4:16).

‘The Lord is my light and salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Ps.27:1).

Every day, let us spread out our hands to God and call on him (Ps.88:9).

Image by Dorothée QUENNESSON from Pixabay

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

2 Kings 24:8-25:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 1:18-32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 84:8-12

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

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

We are blessed when we trust in the Lord.

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

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

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

2 Kings 23:1-24:7

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

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

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

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

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

Josiah was killed in a skirmish with the Egyptian army.

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

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

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

Romans 1:1-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 84:1-7

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

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

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

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Hezekiah, King of Judah, threatened by Assyria / Paul shipwrecked. July 9th 2021

2 Kings 18:1-19:13

The Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been exiled to Assyria due to their unrepentant, evil ways. ‘They neither listened to the commands (of God) nor carried them out‘ (2 Kings 18:12).

The kings of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) had annoyed God less. The most God-fearing Judean kings had enjoyed relatively long reigns. God had so far preserved Judah from being conquered by hostile powers.

Hezekiah now became king of Judah and he was particularly righteous. He actually took down the high places – which none of the other respectable kings had done. He eliminated idol worship from the land and even broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses had made. About time too, because the Israelites had named it and had been burning incense to it. Hezekiah received the ultimate biblical accolade for a king – he did what was right ‘just as his father David had done’ (2 Kings 18:3-4).

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord and there was no-one like him among the kings of Judah – either before or after him (2 Kings 18:5). He kept the Lord’s commands and the Lord was with him. Hezekiah successfully rebelled against the king of Assyria (for four years) and he defeated the Philistines.

Eventually, the formidable king of Assyria, Sennacherib, attacked the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Hezekiah had to pay him three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.

Sennacherib then sent a large army to threaten Jerusalem. His commander shouted at the men on the wall of Jerusalem and Hezekiah’s officials that they should not let Hezekiah deceive them by persuading them to trust in the Lord for their deliverance. He said that no God of any nation had ever delivered his land from the king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:33). He advised the people of Jerusalem to make peace and choose life not death. He unwisely blasphemed and slandered God by doubting his ability to deliver Jerusalem.

Hezekiah tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord. He sent officials wearing sackcloth to the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah told them that the Lord had heard the blasphemies against him and that the commander would return to his own country and be cut down with a sword.

This happened as prophesied. The Assyrian army commander heard that the king of Assyria had left his capital, Lachish, and so withdrew from Jerusalem. The king had started an alternative military campaign against Libnah.

Sennacherib sent Hezekiah threatening messages again blaspheming God’s ability to save Jerusalem. It would not be long before God responded and showed His power to deliver those who are faithful to Him.

Acts 27:13-44

The sailors, taking Paul to Rome, were tempted out of harbour by a gentle south wind only to be caught out in a hurricane force wind along the shore of Crete. I went on holiday to Crete in 2019 in September and the weather was terrible. There was a North-East gale blowing all week and the main beach was a death trap. My advice – if you are contemplating a holiday in Crete – is to go to Rhodes instead.

Paul’s ship took such a violent battering from the storm that they began to throw the cargo overhead. Neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the sailors had given up hope of being saved. However, Paul was confident that God would spare them. Paul lecturered the ship’s company that they should have listened to him, which might not have gone down well after a long time without food. However, he prophesied that they would all be saved. Only the ship would be destroyed. An angel had appeared to him and told him not to be afraid, that he must stand trial before Caesar. As mentioned yesterday, this storm was probably demonic in origin. Satan was attempting to prevent the gospel arriving in Rome. Paul declare his faith that they would be delivered just as the angel had told him and that they would run aground ‘on some island’ (Acts 27:26).

After two weeks the sailors sensed they were approaching land. The sailors were going to escape in a lifeboat but Paul advised the soldiers that they would not be saved unless the sailors stayed. The soldiers cut the ropes and let the lifeboat fall away.

Paul urged them to eat some food. Taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it and eating it in front of them, he encouraged them to eat. When all 276 people on board had eaten, they threw the remaining grain into the sea. Now, they had no lifeboat and no food. They were completely dependent on God in the midst of the storm.

When daylight came, they saw a sandy beach but the boat became stuck on a sandbar and was broken to pieces. The centurion stopped the soldiers from killing Paul and the other prisoners. Everyone reached the land in safety either by swimming or floating on planks. God was protecting Paul and everyone he travelled with from the devil’s wrath. Paul had shown himself to be full of faith in God no matter how bad the circumstances were. Despite being a prisoner, his shining faith made him the leader that everyone looked to when danger threatened.

Psalm 82:1-8

This is a particularly interesting Psalm which could set us off down an intriguing rabbit hole of myth and legend.

As Michael Heiser (2015) points out, the same Hebrew word for God is used the first two lines so we have ‘God {elohim} stands in the great assembly; he administers judgement in the midst of the gods {elohim}’ (Psalm 82:1).   

Many people have postulated that in addition to making the angels, a third of whom fell and became demons, God also made a heavenly council of lesser ‘gods’ to help him rule the earth. It’s an intriguing theory because it explains many strange verses in the Bible such as Genesis 6:1-4 which refers to the ‘sons of God’ or Job 38:4-7 when the ‘sons of God’ shouted for joy when God laid the cornerstone of the earth. This theory would also explain the entire mythology of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman pantheon in that the ‘gods’ these ancient people worshipped actually existed and were rogue members of the divine assembly / ‘sons of god’ who started to impregnate human females and run riot on the earth before God judged them and imprisoned them.

Were the Canaanite deities, that the Israelites were seduced into worshipping, part of this heavenly council or demons? Modern-day exorcists such as Stephen Rossetti find that entities such as Baal still possess people today. As they react to prayers of exorcism we can safely categorise them as demons. The last of the giants, slain by David’s men in 2 Samuel 21:15-22 may have been the last few ‘superhumans’, who had been formed by liaisons between the heavenly council and human females – before God stopped this from occurring.    

There is little point dwelling on this matter because even if there used to be supernatural members of the ‘heavenly council’ interfering in human affairs, they don’t seem to be around anymore. If they existed, they have been judged and restrained by God. The Church is silent on this matter but they would hardly want to validate ancient worship traditions. The safest position is to agree with someone like John MacArthur (2021) and assume that the gods referred to in Psalm 82:1 are ‘earthly leaders, to whom He (God) has delegated authority, and (is) condemning their injustices’.  

Modern day humans are overlooked by the Holy Trinity, angels (and their fallen brethren, demons) and the communion of saints.

In fact, Jesus does confirm this more mundane explanation by quoting Psalm 82 in John 10:34-35 ‘Jesus answered then, ‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are ‘gods’’. God is in ultimate control of everything both in heaven and on earth, he sits in judgement over all and calls everything in his creation to account.

We all need to defend the cause of widow and orphans and maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. As ambassadors of God on this earth, it is our job to rescue the weak and needy and to deliver them from the hands of the wicked (Ps.82:4).

We must pray that the leaders of our country will not become arrogant and realise that they are not immortal. They will die like every other person and face judgement. We don’t want them to know nothing / to understand nothing and walk around in darkness.

We pray for all leaders, that they will walk around in light filled with wisdom by the Holy Spirit. They must defend the weak, promote justice and not show partiality to the wicked.

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/6851736927

Israel Exiled Because of Sin / Paul sails for Rome: July 8th 2021

2 Kings 16:1-17:41

Ahaz became king of Judah. After a recent run of good Judean kings, Ahaz turned to the dark side. He walked in the ways of the evil kings of Israel. He worshipped the Canaanite demonic deities and even performed child sacrifice (2 Kings 16:3).

Ahaz’s capital city, Jerusalem, was besieged by the Arameans and the Israelites. Ahaz sent silver and gold to the king of Assyria and asked to be rescued. The king of Assyria responded and attacked the Aramean capital, Damascus. He captured it, killed the king of Aram and deported its inhabitants.

King Ahaz went to meet his saviour Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria, in Damascus and decided he wanted to build a replicate altar to one he saw there. He sent a sketch and detailed plans to Uriah the priest, who had it built before Ahaz returned. This is despite the Lord having told the Israelites not to imitate the nations around them (2 Kings 17:15). Ahaz would use the new altar for sacrifices but would still use the old bronze altar for ‘seeking guidance’ (2 Kings 16:15). He would be lucky to receive any guidance from God with his attitude.

Hoshea became the last king of Israel. For a while, Hoshea paid tribute to the king of Assyria, Shalmaneser, but he traitorously sent envoys to the king of Egypt and stopped paying. Shalmaneser imprisoned Hoshea, invaded the whole of Israel, captured its capital Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. Even since the Israelites had made Jeroboam king, they had irritated the Lord. Jeroboam had ‘enticed Israel away from following the Lord and caused them to commit a great sin (2 Kings 17:21). They had ignored God’s prophets and so God afflicted them, ‘gave them into the hands of plunderers’ and ‘thrust them from his presence’ (2 Kings 17:20).   

The historian writing 2 Kings summarized that these events ‘all took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God’ (2 Kings 17:7). In contrast, the Southern kingdom, Judah, had been fortunate to have many kings that were not as evil as the Israelite kings. God preserved the integrity of Judah thanks to its more positive attitude towards Him, far longer than He protected Israel.

The Israelites had worshipped other gods, most commonly the demonic Canaanite fertility deities Baal and Ashtoreth. They had set up sacred stones and Asherah poles and burned incense in the high places. They worshipped worthless idols making themselves become worthless (2 Kings 17:15). The Israelites had rejected God’s decrees, statutes and covenant. They had carried out child sacrifice, practiced divination and sought omens. They had ignored the warnings from God’s prophets and so God in his righteous anger removed them from his presence.

We now live in such a multi-faith culture that many people syncretize other religions as the Israelites attempted to do. We can attempt to amalgamate and reconcile differing religious beliefs and cultural elements. State run schools are no longer solely Christian focused and will celebrate other faith’s festivals as well as Christmas and Easter. People in the United States feel pressurized to wish each other ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than ‘Happy Christmas’ to feel more inclusive of other faiths. Mohr states that ‘the person most likely to insist on “Merry Christmas” would be a Republican man over 60 who lives in the Midwest; the archetypal “Happy Holidays” proponent is a young (18 to 29) female Democrat living in the Northeast’  https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/using-merry-christmas-or-happy-holidays-no-longer-about-putting-ncna1106181.

Many people today still worship false idols such as celebrity and wealth rather than God. Jesus said ‘you cannot serve both God and Money’ (Matt.6:24). People do not trust God to provide all their basic needs and end up stressed and requiring counselling. They worry about their futures. Jesus said that we should not worry about our lives or what we should eat and drink. We should seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and ‘all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matt. 6:33).

The Israelites had practiced child sacrifice with even the king, Ahaz, sacrificing his son ‘in the fire’ (2 Kings 16:3). Child sacrifice has become endemic in Western Societies since the 1960’s through the state-sponsored practice of abortion. Over 200,000 unwanted children are killed before birth in the United Kingdom every year for many different reasons including: economic pressures (due to the greed of the rest of society), worship of material possessions and career, lack of desire to be a servant to one’s family and pressure from oppressive / abusive partners who want sex without accepting responsibility for the consequences.

Jesus ‘did not come to be served, but to serve’ (Matt.20:28). In Mark 10:19 he reiterated the commandment: ‘you shall not murder’ and had a particular love for small children ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them’ (Matt.19:14).

The King of Assyria resettled Israel with foreigners, deported from other countries. These people did not know how to worship the Lord, so God sent lions to kill them. The King of Assyria then sent one of the Israelite priests back to Samaria to teach the people how to worship the Lord. However, each national group still set up their own shrines to their national gods. They worshipped the Lord in addition to worshipping their own demonic deities, serving their man-made idols and performing child sacrifice.

Israel was now full of people who did not worship the Lord exclusively, nor did they adhere to the decrees, ordinances, laws and commands that the Lord had given to the Israelites. The country was at a very low spiritual ebb. Many people call themselves Christians in our country but in addition to giving lukewarm occasional worship to God, they also worship other man-made gods and their own desires. It is tempting to follow secular rules and laws rather than God’s commandments. We all need to assess our lives and behaviours to see if we have adopted the attitudes and idols of the non-Christians around us. Are we listening to God and only following him?

Acts 26:24-27:12

Festus shouted at Paul and accused him of being insane (Acts 26:24). Many people think Christians are crazy today but they haven’t actually worked out in their own minds who they think Jesus is. They would rather not think about him at all. There is no denying he is a historical figure – secular historians have confirmed this. Looking at the miracles and wonders he performed, it is true and reasonable to conclude he was the Son of God. He proved this beyond doubt by his resurrection. People who don’t follow Christianity are the ones not living in reality. They deny documented history and will not listen to the truth.

Paul did not lose his cool. He was adamant he was truthful and reasonable. He asked King Agrippa whether he believed the prophets. King Agrippa realised that Paul was attempting to convert him (Acts 26:28). Paul prayed for him and everyone who listens to his words that we will become what he was.

The senior Romans left the room and all agreed that Paul should not even have been imprisoned. He could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. It seems crazy that they would persist in sending Paul to Rome when they had agreed he was innocent, but God wanted Paul in Rome and they were unwittingly carrying out His will.

Paul was handed over to a centurion called Julius, who would supervise him on the gruelling boat journey to Rome. Luke – the author of Acts – travelled with Paul along with Aristarchus, a Macedonian. Paul was still given a great deal of kindness and freedom during the voyage. Julius allowed him to go to his friends when they stopped in Sidon.

The ships they boarded made slow headway against the wind. It was getting late in the year and Paul prophesied that the trip was going to be disastrous (Acts 27:10). However, the centurion ignored Paul’s advice. They hoped to reach the port of Phoenix in Crete and overwinter there. Just as the devil had tried to sink Jesus’ boat as he crossed the lake to exorcise the Gerasene demoniac, the devil was orchestrating the wind and sea against Paul.

Satan wanted to prevent Paul from reaching Rome as from there his teaching would reach the whole world.

Psalm 81:8-16

Israel would not listen to God so he left them to their own devices (Psalm 81:12). Billions of people do not listen to God today; they follow their own gods and desires – worshipping the false idols of money, career and self.

Our fellow citizens wonder why the world is ravaged by wars, famines, natural disasters and a pandemic. If we would all follow God’s ways, he would quickly subdue our enemies and turn his hand against our foes (Ps.81:14).

The demons have chosen to rebel against the Lord for ever – they and their followers will receive punishment that will last forever (Ps.81:15).

When we repent and turn to God, inviting Jesus into our lives as our personal saviour we will be fed with the finest produce of the land (Ps.81:16)

Image: Alberto Fernandez Fernandez, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Jehu kills Joram and Ahaziah / Paul transferred to Caesarea: July 4th 2021

2 Kings 8:16-9:37

Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, became king of Judah. At the same time, Joram was king of Israel in the North. I fully approve of first names beginning with ‘J’, but this period can become a little confusing.

Judah had been doing relatively well in the eyes of the Lord while Jehoshaphat was king (1 Kings 22:43) but Jehoram walked in the way of the evil kings of Israel. He married a daughter of the notorious King Ahab and ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’ (2 Kings 8:18). However, God still did not destroy Judah in memory of King David and to preserve it for the birth of Jesus.

The regions of Edom and Libnah rebelled against Jehoram and set up their own kings. Jehoram failed to counteract these rebellions. His country became smaller and smaller.

Jehoram was succeeded by his son, Ahaziah, who teamed up with the king of Israel, Joram, to fight the Arameans, reigned over by Hazael, at Ramoth Gilead.

The prophet Elisha organised a coup. He instructed a fellow prophet to anoint Jehu as king over Israel and to then run away quickly. It was Jehu’s destiny to clean up Israel by destroying the house of Ahab and killing Jezebel. Jehu was a competent soldier even though he drove his chariot ‘like a madman’. He shot Joram, king of Israel, through the heart with an arrow and fatally wounded Ahaziah, king of Judah, in his chariot. Joram had repeatedly asked Jehu through messengers, if he had come in peace. There could be no peace until the idol-worship instigated by Ahab and Jezebel had been purged from the land (2 Kings 9:22).

Jehu then went to Jezreel to confront the queen of evil, Jezebel. She met an unfortunate end. She was thrown down from a window by her eunuchs, trampled by horses and eaten by dogs. It had been prophesied that she wouldn’t be buried (2 Kings 9:37).

Jehu had a dynamic, if somewhat brutal, start to his reign. Things looked more promising for Israel’s future if he managed to keep purging the evil from the country.

Acts 23:12-35

There was now a major conspiracy to kill Paul. More than forty Jews vowed not to eat or drink until they had ambushed and murdered him. Paul’s nephew informed both Paul and the Roman commander about this plot.

Paul appeared to have a lot of freedom in jail. He could receive visitors and call on the centurions to run errands for him. God was still protecting Paul. Prison was the safest place for him while his life was so threatened. Jesus wanted Paul to testify in Rome and was influencing people to safely transport him there.

The commander transferred Paul to Caesarea guarded by four hundred and seventy Roman soldiers. Paul was held in Herod’s palace by Governor Felix, until his accusers arrived.

Psalm 80:1-7

Jesus restored us in God’s eyes when he died on the cross (Ps.80:7).

He is our Good Shepherd, who leads us as his flock.

We were at war with God due to our sins and our future was death. Jesus made peace with God on our behalf, through the shedding of his perfect blood and opened the way to eternal life, where God’s face will shine upon us forever (Ps.80:3).

We were born again through the waters of our baptism to be adopted children of God.

Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.

Image: Rijksmuseum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Asa King of Judah / Paul and Silas in Prison: June June 25th 2021

1 Kings 14:21-16:7

The book of 1 Kings now starts alternating between the successive kings of the Northern part of the divided country (the region called ‘Israel’) and the successive kings of the South (the region called ‘Judah’), where Jerusalem was situated. It is mainly a story of abject failure to follow God’s laws.

Rehoboam, son of Solomon, was king of Judah. He was crowned at the age of forty-one and reigned for seventeen years. His mother was an Ammonite. The Ammonites were descended from Ben-Ammi, who was the son of Lot’s youngest daughter. After Lot and his two daughters had escaped from Sodom, his daughters got their father, Lot, drunk every night and had sex with him until they both fell pregnant. The oldest daughter gave birth to Moab, from whom the Moabites were descended. Both the Ammonites and Moabites had been conceived by incest (Gen.19:36-38).

Under Rehoboam’s rule, the country committed evil and angered God even more than it had done under Solomon. The Judeans set up heathen worship sites and had sex with prostitutes in the religious shrines. Their culture had been completely contaminated by the remnants of the indigenous tribes they had failed to exterminate from the promised land (1 Kings 14:24).

In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s rule, the king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. He ransacked the temple and the palace, carrying off all the gold and treasures. Solomon had wisely protected his kingdom by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. Without political alliances, Israel and Judah were threatened by powerful neighbours. Instead of the gold shields that Solomon’s guard had used, they now had to use bronze shields. The kingdom was going downhill with continual warfare against the Northern kingdom (Israel) ruled by the evil Jeroboam.

Abijah became king of Judah after Rehoboam. He only reigned for three years. He committed all the same sins as his father Rehoboam. God was after a king whose heart was fully devoted to him, as the heart of David had been. David had not failed to keep the Lord’s commands all the days of his life – apart from his adulterous affair with the wife of Uriah the Hittite, whom David had murdered (1 Kings 15:5).

After Abijah came Asa. He reigned for forty-one years. He was a breath of fresh air as he obeyed the Lord (1 Kings 15:11). He expelled the shrine-prostitutes and got rid of his father’s idols. He even deposed the evil queen mother, his grandmother, because of her worship of a Canaanite fertility deity. Even though he didn’t manage to remove the high places, Asa’s heart was fully committed to God (1 Kings 15:14).

Asa’s Southern kingdom of Judah was still at war with the North (Israel) now ruled by King Baasha. Asa wisely bought a tactical alliance with the powerful king of Damascus, Ben-Hadad, using all his remaining treasure. Ben-Hadad captured enemy towns in Israel forcing King Baasha to withdraw from threatening Judah’s borders.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Nadab became king after Jeroboam but only reigned for two years before being assassinated by Baasha. Baasha fulfilled the word of the prophet Ahijah (1 Kings 14:10-11) by killing Jeroboam’s entire family. This was because of the sins Jeroboam had personally committed and had also caused Israel, the country under his rule, to commit.

Baasha continued to commit the same sins as Jeroboam had done and so a prophet, Jehu, prophesied that he and his family would meet the same disastrous end (1 Kings 16:3). He had lived by the sword and would die by the sword.

Throughout the book of Kings, the rulers of both Israel and Judah were judged by God on their actions and the attitudes of their hearts. God was always comparing them to David, a man after God’s own heart. Only Asa, king of Judah, has measured up to this ideal so far, which is why God allowed him to rule for forty-one years. Evil rulers had far shorter reigns.

Acts 16:16-40

A slave girl who was possessed by an evil fortune-telling spirit kept following Paul and the rest of the disciples. She made a great deal of money for her owners. Evil spirits can’t actually tell you the future. Only God knows the future. However, because demons are immensely clever, they can generally predict the future, working it out from knowledge of people’s behaviour and habits. They also have access to hidden knowledge / lists of people’s sins and can make events happen in the future to match their predictions. If a fortune teller predicts that someone will have a car crash next week, they could send a demon to cause the crash. Christians are not allowed to consult fortune tellers but if one forced a negative prediction on us like that, we should pray to God that he will send his holy angels to prevent it from happening. The fortune telling girl following the disciples simply identified who the disciples were and what they were doing. This was common knowledge amongst all the local evil spirits working together in an evil hierarchy (Acts 16:17)

Paul became so troubled by the slave girl that he ordered the spirit to come out of her (Acts 16:18). The spirit obeyed. For a successful exorcism, the person being prayed for usually has to want to be freed and so we can assume the slave girl kept following the disciples because she wanted liberation.

The owners of the slave girl were furious to have lost their income and so had the magistrates strip and beat Paul and Silas and throw them into prison. They were put in the inner cell with their feet in stocks. Paul and Silas were irrepressible and were praying and singing to God at midnight when there was a violent earthquake. All the prison doors flew open and everybody’s chains came loose. The other prisoners had been listening to Paul and Silas all evening and so their spiritual shackles may well have come loose too.

The jailer was going to kill himself thinking all his prisoners had escaped but Paul reassured him (Acts 16:28). He asked the apostles what he must do to be saved. Paul replied: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and all your household’ (Acts 16:31). They told him and his family the gospel message, The jailer washed their wounds and he and his family were baptized. They seized the chance while the apostles were there. They recognised the chance for salvation and the whole family were filled with joy, because they had come to believe in God. The jailer had been in spiritual jail because of sin. The blood of Jesus washed him and family clean and gave them eternal freedom and life.

The magistrates ordered Paul and Silas to be released in the morning but they refused to go. They had a surprise for the corrupt magistrates, they were Roman citizens and should not have been treated so disrespectfully. The magistrates had to come personally to appease them and escort them from the prison. They ‘requested’ that they should leave the city rather than demanded it.

Paul and Silas went back to Lydia’s house and encouraged the other believers with their incredible testimony before leaving.

God brought some good out of the disciples being thrown into jail. Not only did the fellow inmates hear from the apostles, but also an entire family was saved. The jailer would then have been able to talk about Jesus to all future prisoners. Prison can be a place of wonderful spiritual renewal where people at their lowest ebb can finally find God. We might get a chance to visit a prison one day and think that we will be bringing Jesus in with us. However, we will find that Jesus is already there.

Proverbs 15:21-30

Unlike the foolish king Rehoboam, we should listen to many wise counsellors and actually act on their advice (Prov.15:22). When we are wise, we will stick to the straight path of life that leads upwards.

The Lord tears down the proud man’s house. He doesn’t like greed and He detests the thoughts of wicked people. He is far from them.

Jesus Christ made us righteous with God through his death on the cross and so God will hear our prayers (Prov.15:29).

We should weigh our answers and delight in a holy, timely and apt reply.

We should remain cheerful at all times, just as Paul and Silas did when sitting sit-by-side in stocks in the prison (Prov.15:30). Their cheerful songs and looks brought joy to the heart of other prisoners. The good news of the Gospel brought everlasting life to their jailer and his family.

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

David anointed King / Jesus Appears to his Disciples: June 1st 2021

2 Samuel 1:1-2:7

A man escaped from the Israelite camp and told David that Saul and his son Jonathan were dead. The man brought Saul’s crown and his arm-band with him. David and his men mourned, wept and fasted (2 Sam. 1:12). However, David was not comfortable about some aspects of the man’s story. The messenger admitted he was an Amalekite and David had just come back from slaughtering the Amalekites. He also claimed to have finished off the mortally wounded Saul, which was a lie, presumably to win favour with David. Even though Saul had frequently tried to kill him, David still respected God’s anointed king and did not approve of anyone lifting a sword against him (2 Sam. 1:14). David ordered that the hapless messenger should be killed in punishment for allegedly killing Saul.

David lamented the death of Saul and Jonathan: ‘How the mighty have fallen!’ (2 Sam. 1:19). He especially grieved for Jonathan. They had a pure loving friendship, which is exceedingly rare these days (2 Sam. 1:26). Jonathan had loved David as himself (1 Sam. 18:3). Jesus told us that we were to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39) and he demonstrated how God extended this type of love to the whole world.

Eventually, David asked the Lord whether he should visit Judah. God told him to go to Hebron. David took his wives and his men there and settled in Hebron and its towns. He was anointed king of Judah (2 Sam.2:4).

David sent an encouraging message to the town of Jabesh Gilead to thank them for burying Saul (2 Sam. 2:6-7).

The king of Israel was dead, long live David the king – just of Judah so far but it was a good start.

John 20:10-31

Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb crying after Peter and John had gone back to their homes. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had delivered Mary from a terrible demonic oppression and, as a result, she loved Jesus tremendously and was one of his most devoted followers. She was the sister of Lazarus and Martha and had previously wet Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:38), drying them with her hair. She had recently anointed his feet again in preparation for his burial in her own house in Bethany (John 12:3). We should all have a tender love for Jesus like Mary Magdalene had, being forever grateful that he has wiped away our sins and longing to spend time with him.

Mary looked inside the tomb and saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been. They did not understand why she was crying. The knew about Jesus’ resurrection and so expected the world to be rejoicing. Turning around, she thought the gardener was standing there but it was Jesus. Jesus’ first word after being resurrected was ‘Mary’ (John 20:16). Jesus knows us all as individuals and calls out our names so we can come to him and be saved.

Jesus reiterated that we can now call God our Father. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus, co-heirs with Christ (John 20:17). Mary joyfully took this good news back to the disciples. She had seen the resurrected living Lord.

The disciples had locked themselves in. They were quaking ‘for fear of the Jews’ (John 20:19). They weren’t going to get far in spreading the gospel with this attitude and so Jesus appeared to them and breathed on them to give them the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). The Holy Spirit at Pentecost would later empower them to become supercharged, powerful apostles. At our baptism, which might have happened to us as infants, we receive both the Holy Spirit and a supernatural seal on our hearts flagging that we belong to God. However, this small deposit of the Holy Spirit may not burst into flames and energise us until we experience our own personal Pentecost – the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’. We need to pray directly to the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus, on a daily basis and ask him to fire up all his gifts within us so we can be the best witness we can be to the Lord Jesus Christ for the glory of God.

The disciples were overjoyed to see Jesus again. Jesus took away their terror and gave them peace (John 20:19). He was sending them out into the world, once he had empowered them with the Holy Spirit. just as the Father had sent him (John 20:21).

Jesus told them that if they forgave anyone their sins, they would be forgiven (John 20:23). From this comes the tradition of the Mother Church of believers confessing to a priest their sins so that he will grant them absolution on account of his spiritual authority handed down in an unbroken chain from the first apostles through the laying on of hands. It is wonderful to hear these holy words: ‘God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.‘ It is like receiving a loving embrace from our Father:

Other denominations teach that you can ask God the Father directly for absolution but that would be missing out the human mediation that Jesus stipulated in John 20:23, Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18. The Mother Church teaches that we can ask God directly for absolution in exceptional circumstances – immediate danger of death or a global pandemic – but we have to ask him with ‘perfect contrition’, rather than just a fear of hell, and promise to visit a priest as soon as circumstances allow. Perfect contrition is ‘sorrow for sin arising from perfect love. In perfect contrition the sinner detests sin more than any other evil, because it offends God, who is supremely good and deserving of all human lovehttps://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=35519

‘Doubting’ Thomas missed Jesus’ appearance and refused to believe it happened. A week later, though the doors were locked Jesus came again and stood among the disciples. He told Thomas to stop doubting and believe. As full recognition and faith dawned, Thomas uttered the beautiful phrase: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:27-28). We should be able to say this with heartfelt thanks when we consider how many times God has rescued us during our lives. Jesus will forgive us too for having doubts. He will demonstrate time and again in our lives that it is not fate, karma or good luck that steers our lives. Jesus is walking with us demonstrating his constant love for us.

We are particularly blessed when we believe based on hearing the gospel alone rather than having to see Jesus with our own eyes (John 20:29).

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples. John listed a sufficient number of major miracles in his gospel for us to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Belief is a simple choice. I can turn on the TV, watch the news and choose to believe the newscaster. Similarly, we can choose to believe the Bible and the two thousands years of Christian witness. martyrdom and teaching since it was written or think we know better through foolish pride. Belief leads to eternal life. Choosing not to believe leads to eternal separation from God. It really shouldn’t be a difficult decision but the spirit of unbelief is rampant in the world at the moment – just consider how fairly sensible people have refused to believe scientists about the Covid pandemic and made a fuss about social distancing and wearing masks. God solves problems these days through people. He inspired scientists to produce a miracle vaccine. We just have to choose to believe in his provenance.

By believing, we will have life in his name (John 20:31).

Proverbs 13:20-14:4

We should pick our company carefully (Prov.13:20).

Many of the great heroes in the Bible: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Daniel were wealthy men. The righteous will receive a reward (Prov. 13:21). We are all righteous in the sight of God due to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and so we can claim our reward of prosperity.

Poverty isn’t a blessing. We want to be able to help future generations of our family (Prov. 13:22).

Injustice in the world keeps people poor. We should fight for social justice to lift people out of poverty.

God loves us and so will discipline us and allow us to go through trials to refine us like silver, give us endurance, makes us stronger and build our character. No test, no worthwhile testimony.

Devious people despise the Lord (Prov. 14:2). Christians respect his awesome power and love.

Image: National Gallery of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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