Temptation of Christ: March 21st 2021

The Israelites started to crave food other than manna. The NIV says they ‘started wailing‘. The plethora of recipe books in my kitchen testify that I often long for variety in my diet. However, I usually can’t be bothered to consult a recipe or gather any exotic ingredients and so permanently exist on a handful of tried and tested recipes. I have some sympathy with the wailing Israelites as I once tried replacing all my lunches with a food replacement drink. All I had to do was add water to a powder and shake it. The drink was advertised as containing exactly the right balance of nutrients and vitamins. I thought it would save loads of time and money. It was horrible. I gave it away and went back to normal food. Manna sounds relatively delicious, ‘It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey‘ (Exodus 16:31). However, it is in our human nature to seek novel experiences, which often don’t work out well.

The complaints about the constant diet of manna seems to be instigated by non-Jews tagging along with them: ‘The rabble with them began to crave other food’. We have to be careful of the company that we keep and reject bad influences.

The Lord became exceedingly angry at their complaint that they were ‘better off in Egypt (v.18)‘. Back in Egypt, they were living in slavery and their new-born sons were being executed. The Israelites had a very short memory if they thought that was a good price to pay for some cucumbers and melons.

Moses was allocated 70 leaders to help him share the burden of leadership. Intriguingly, the Lord says: ‘I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them‘. When the Spirit rests on each one of the leaders they prophesied, ‘but they did not do so again’ (v.25). This is typical of the action of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit rests on someone for a specific purpose, for a specific length of time and gives someone a supernatural ability for a limited period. These days, as baptised Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living permanently within us.

Two of the named 70 leaders hadn’t even gone to the Tent of Meeting, where God had come down in the cloud, and yet they still received the Spirit and started prophesying. This indicates that we don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to any particular site to receive the Spirit. God will give Him to us wherever we are, if we ask.

Joshua, Moses’ assistant, thought that these two leaders should be stopped from prophesying. Moses replied that he wished all the Israelites would receive the Spirit and prophesy. His speech reminds me of Jesus, ‘for whoever is not against us if for us’ (Mark 9:40). Many traditional Christians exhibit a lack of understanding or even spiritual envy towards charismatic Christians, such as Pentecostals, who publicly demonstrate gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues. We should be inspired by their example and ask for these gifts ourselves. I started praying in tongues as a Catholic when I prayed to the Holy Spirit in my bathroom to come into my life fully. I didn’t have to go to a particular church or meeting place to receive this supernatural gift. It is fantastic that the Holy Spirit could simultaneously give all 2.3 billion Christians in the world all His supernatural gifts if each one knew about them and asked Him for them.

Moses questioned whether the Lord can provide enough meat for 600,000 men for a whole month. Considering that God was already cross, Moses got away lightly with doubting God’s power.

God sent the Israelites a prodigious quantity of quail. Some of the Israelites probably complained, ‘These aren’t very big!

Even while they were still eating, ‘the anger of the Lord burned amongst the people, and he struck them with a severe plague (v.33). What kind of plague? A severe plague. By the time of Jesus’s public ministry, the habit of striking people with plagues seems to have stopped. There is no record of Jesus either giving someone an illness or taking the shackles off the devil to allow him to do it. God, in the Old Testament, shows all the emotions that us humans, made in his image, can demonstrate including righteous anger and retribution. Jesus, as the Creator who constantly intercedes for us, is the personification of God’s love. In the New Testament, Jesus said God would willingly send more than twelve legions of angels to defend him – who would then annihilate his attackers – but only if Jesus asked him to (Matthew 26:53). Jesus is the one who comes between us and the wrath of the Father. God, the Father, ‘showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might love through him’ (1 John 4:9).

Mirian and Aaron, Moses’ elder brother and sister, started to gossip about Moses because of his wife, who wasn’t an Israelite. God instantly summoned all three to the Tent of Meeting. It is always best to deal with management problems as soon as possible and not let them fester. God explained to them that he has a special relationship with Moses. He speaks to other prophets in visions or dreams but ‘With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles (v.8).’ When Jesus taught he often taught in parables, which even the disciples failed to understand – and he had to explain them clearly afterwards.

The anger of the Lord burned against Aaron and Miriam. Miriam became leprous in punishment for her behaviour whereas Jesus went around curing lepers. Aaron apologised and pleaded for his sister and Moses, even though he was the one wronged by his siblings, also interceded for her healing. God agreed to heal her, but only after she is confined outside the camp for seven days in disgrace. God obviously found Miriam more guilty of gossip and slander against her Cushite sister-in-law than Aaron.

Twelve Israelite leaders were sent as spies to explore the promised land of Canaan. These included Moses’ trusty assistant, Joshua, who we discover used to be called ‘Hoshea son of Nun’ (13:16) prior to Moses renaming him. Joshua basically means ‘ the Lord is salvation’ and is very similar in meaning to the name Jesus.

Moses gave them a detailed list of the facts they are to gather on their spying mission and also said ‘Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land’ (v.20). Moses was an excellent manager. He specified exactly what he needed but also gave them them free rein to do their best and improvise.

The spies explored for 40 days and found that the grapes were so enormous that two of them were required to carry a single cluster of grapes on a pole (v.23). Not only were there giant grapes, there were actual giant people, ‘the descendants of Anak’ (v.22). The promised land certainly looked fruitful and productive and worth taking over, as long as the Israelites were not scared of giants.

Luke 3:23-4:13

Here we have the family tree of Joseph, Jesus and Mary’s human guardian. At first glance, if one were asked to read out this list of names in church, it doesn’t look particularly inspiring. It looks like a bit of a chore. However, this list of names is another one of the most mind-blowing bits of the Bible.

It basically gives you the age of the earth. It gives you the timeline from creation until Jesus was born. It is an unbroken list of descendants from Adam, who God created on the sixth day of creation.

There are some mighty and familiar names on this list of Josephs ancestors including God / Adam / Seth / Enoch / Noah / Abraham / Isaac / Jacob / Judah / Boaz / Jesse / David / Joseph.

The Bible gives the ages at which some of these mighty men of God died, e.g. Noah lived for 950 years, and so it’s easy to roughly calculate for ourselves how old the world is. However, we don’t need to bother because the Jews have been meticulously counting for us. They don’t need scientists measuring residual radioactivity in rocks and pronouncing the world is billions of years old, the Jews have simply been counting from the time of creation.

When it is Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) in 2021, between the 6th and 8th September, the world will be 5,782 years old (the world was 3,761 years old at the birth of Jesus). Jewish tradition maintains that something very interesting will happen by the year 6,000 as they assign 1,000 years to each of the 6 days of creation and so we will be entering the 7th day – the Sabbath / Day of rest in the year 6,000 with a thousand years of rest before us.

I find that I can’t reconcile the prevailing notion that the world is old and that living creatures evolved with Christianity. It is plain to me that God clearly told us He created the world in 6 days (and rested on the 7th) in numerous places in the Bible. This list of names confirms this. It is plain to me that no animal has ever evolved – they just stay as the same species and they have only had 5,782 years to change anyway. What did angels and demons evolve from? God created them out of nothing and their existence is a fact for all Christians.

Believing in the literal words of the Bible, where they plainly make sense, is the only way for a Christian to live and it doesn’t hamper you in any way at all. I worked as a professional scientist for 30 years and not believing in the fable of evolution didn’t hamper me one bit – because clearly it isn’t true. As Christians we believe in the virgin birth, miracles, angels, demons and resurrection from the dead. Non-believers are already going to think we’re crazy. Christians might as well go all in and believe what God has plainly told them about the Creation of the earth. God doesn’t like cowards. If you believe the world was created billions of years ago by a random big bang and that creatures made themselves through evolution then the God you believe in isn’t big enough. God created and owns everything. He is mighty and awesome beyond our imagination and we should believe He has done what He claims.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the desert. It’s a convenient modern opinion that Jesus didn’t carry out any miracles until after his baptism (when the Holy Spirit descended on him). However, Jesus was entirely filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his conception. It’s really interesting that the Son of God, one person in the Trinity of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is also filled with the Holy Spirit. As John 14:11 also says: ‘Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ so Jesus has the two other members of the Trinity with him. Saint Patrick explained, using the 3 leaved shamrock as a visual aid, the mystery of one God in three persons. “The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is God, one and equal with the Father and the Son, of the same substance and also of the same nature …. Yet he is not called the Spirit of the Father alone,… but the Spirit of both the Father and the Son. (CCC,245). In the creed, we say that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son“.

However, when Jesus came to earth he emptied himself ‘who being on his very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness’ (Philippians 2:6-7). Jesus laid aside any independent desire to act independently of God and performed his miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit. Don Stewart explains that: ‘Jesus emptied Himself in at least three different ways. First, He voluntarily accepted the limitations of being a human being. Second, His glory was hidden from the people. Third, He gave up the independent use of His relative attributes’. (all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere present, etc.). (https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_795.cfm).

Jesus laid aside his godliness in order to demonstrate that any humans can carry out the signs and wonders he did, if we call on the Father in faith-filled prayer and are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days. Then the devil asks him a series of questions all containing the Satanic ‘if‘. Watch out for the Satanic ‘if‘ when people quiz you about your Christian faith. ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread(v.3). The devil already knows that Jesus is the son of God. Jesus doesn’t need to prove anything to him. Jesus has laid aside his godly power and won’t use it for his own advantage. He could call on the Holy Spirit – as we can do – for a miracle but wouldn’t do so just for his own benefit. As believers today, we can call on the Holy Spirit for supernatural gifts of deliverance or healing. We wouldn’t call on the Holy Spirit to help us with bread creation miracles.

Jesus counteracts all the Devil’s evil ‘if’ questions with ‘it is written‘. There is no better spiritual weapon against the devil than quoting the scriptures: ‘Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6:17). That’s why daily Bible study is so important.

In response to the challenge about throwing himself off the temple, Jesus replies ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ (v.12).

I think this summarises whether we should attend church during the Covid-19 crisis. The Catholic churches in our area sensibly closed down and moved services online – even though they are the most dogmatic about it being compulsory to attend Sunday Mass in normal times. However, the evangelical churches kept going and happily ignored the regulations stipulating no singing and no mixing. With over 400 priests and clergy having lost their lives to the virus just in Europe I couldn’t say that I was holier or had more faith than them to survive an attack by the disease (https://www.agensir.it/europa/2020/09/29/400-priests-have-died-from-covid-19-stories-of-heroes-that-helped-everyone-keep-hope-alive/). It seemed like practical common sense to follow the medical advice and to limit exposure to crowds – while trying to support elderly people in the community. Keeping the churches opened did provide people with a valuable source of support and worship but it put pressure on nervous members of the community to attend and caused major friction in large households if the residents had different perceptions of the risk.

It’s interesting that as soon as Jesus started his public ministry he was instantly targeted by the devil. As soon as I had converted and become a confirmed Catholic, I began to get really sick. I lost my memory and my weight plummeted. I really thought I was dying. By the grace of God, my parish priest was a charismatic man of God who prayed a healing / deliverance prayer over me. I could feel the heat from his hands on my head as he prayed. I honestly think that the devil was trying to snuff me out. Nicky Gumbel (167) warns Christians who have invited the Holy Spirit into their lives, that they will have to fend off increased temptations from the devil for a while afterwards.

When we become a light of God on a lampstand for all to see – we become noticeable and a target. Fend off the evil one with the word of God.

Proverbs 7:21-27

Stay away from the adulteress or she will trap you. ‘Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths’ (v.25).

Stay away from temptation. If we have got a problem resisting women, we shouldn’t go to nightclubs. If we have a problem resisting alcohol, we shouldn’t go near pubs or bars or have any booze in our houses. My wife has banned me from bringing chocolate into the house so she doesn’t have to resist temptation throughout the day. I bought a multipack off crisps yesterday and there is just one packet left, which I am going to have for lunch.

‘Her slain are a mighty throng (v.26). ‘Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death’ (v.27).

Once someone has sinned once – it’s easy for it to become a habit. If a married man or woman is chatting you up, you probably aren’t the first person to have enjoyed their adulterous attention. It isn’t a wise choice ‘to be led astray’ (v.1), and taken ‘down to the chamber of death (v.27).

Picture: By Ivan Kramskoi – Google Cultural Center, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38344996

Fire from the Lord and the Baptism of Jesus: March 20th 2021

Numbers 9:15-11:3

At God’s command, the Israelites set out and at his command, they encamped. It’s wonderful for whole nation to follow God’s directions on a daily basis. When God indicated it was time to move, they moved. Do we tune into God every morning to find out his plan for our day?

The Israelites never knew when God’s cloud would lift over the Tent of Testimony indicating it was time to leave. So the Israelites could never afford the luxury of getting too comfortable or burdening themselves with too many possessions – even when the cloud stayed over the tent for a whole year. God kept them on their toes ready to become mobile.

God instructed that the priests should sound a blast on the trumpets whenever the Israelites were going into battle (v.9). God would then remember and rescue them. So we need to pray to God, make a loud noise and attract his attention through prayer whenever we are ‘going into battle’. I tried to learn the trumpet recently but didn’t really get to grips with it. I am now learning the saxophone instead, which is endlessly amusing. I must remember to tell God I am not calling on him for assistance whenever I practice the saxophone. I am not actually in distress – it just sounds like I am.

The tabernacle was to be set up before the holy things arrived (v.21). This shows God’s practical love of organisation and good order and the respect that was to be shown to the articles that were dedicated to Him.

Moses pleaded with his father-in-law (Reuel / Jethro) not to leave him and promised him a share of ‘whatever good things the Lord gives us’ (v. 31-32). Reul is valued for his local knowledge of where to camp. Moses wanted him to be ‘their eyes’. Reul is from the land of Midian and is not an Israelite. This looks promising for future harmony between the nations and makes us appreciate our own in-laws. Reul was an important man in Midianite society – both a prince and a priest. The Midianites didn’t worship God alone, which implies we can ask for help from people from other backgrounds / religions. We can work as partners on Godly projects and be grateful for their help and practical assistance Unfortunately, the relationship between the Israelites and the rest of the Midianites completely breaks down by Numbers 31 and there is an enormous battle between the nations.

The Israelites made the Lord angry by complaining and ‘fire from the Lord burned among them‘ (11:1). The Israelites weren’t enjoying unpredictably packing up and trudging through the desert with their belongings. They weren’t enjoying simple obedience even though their needs were all being taken care of. My family aren’t a great fan of camping either. We have a huge tent in the loft, which we have used once and will shortly be selling on eBay. It would have been easier and less burdensome to travel through the desert if an Israelite family had minimised the possessions they were carrying. So if a family had donated all their heavy gold to furnish the Tabernacle, they wouldn’t have to carry it now. The people cry to Moses for help. He intercedes for them and the fire dies down. It is always best not to complain to God. We can remind him of his promises but He is due our gratitude for guiding, protecting and feeding us on a daily basis.

Disciplining the Israelites through terrors such as fire and plagues doesn’t work in the end, Even though the Israelites are often punished for disobedience, it didn’t make them love God. They steadfastly refuse to enter the Promised Land when they get there and God wants to kill them all. Gradually God realises that threats and punishments don’t work. His ultimate goal is for people to love him by their own volition and for this he has to just show them his loving side through the public ministry of Jesus.

God can ‘kill’ anyone he likes because he created us and owns us and when we are ‘killed’ by God, we are just moved from place to place. Our immortal souls are still alive eternally in God’ eyes – for ‘all are alive to God’ (Luke 20:38). There is a striking difference between the behaviour of God, the Father, in the Old Testament (who frequently struck people with lethal floods, plagues and fire) and Jesus, the Son, in the New Testament. We will explore this in a separate post.

Luke 3:1-22

John was inspired to start his ministry, ‘preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (v.2). Luke, with his scientific background, accurately documented when in history this took place. It actually happened. The historical evidence for the gospels makes atheism an untenable position. John the Baptist and Jesus were actual historical figures carrying out their ministry at a defined time. Multiple eye-witnesses and independent historians confirming they existed. Jesus proved he was the Son of God through the miracles he performed – which were witnessed by thousands of people. It is thus completely illogical to deny the existence of God. We clearly see the ‘Spirit of Unbelief’ working in other areas at present. A significant number of people believe that coronavirus / covid 19 is not a thing even though scientists have proven its existence, hundreds of thousands of people have died and new vaccines work against it. Unbelief is a choice but once you have persisted in illogical unbelief for long enough, you give ‘a spirit of unbelief’ a legal right to take up residence making it even harder for you to turn to the truth.

People sensed that they needed what John was offering even though he was a colourful character and spoke his mind, ‘You brood of vipers!’ (v. 7). I am sure he said this in a loving way but it isn’t the way we treat new visitors to a church these days.

John the Baptist gave some simple practical advice on how to live a virtuous life: share your possessions and food; don’t defraud people; don’t be a false witness or extort money and be content with what you have without lusting for more.

Just being descended from a great friend of God, Abraham, would not help the people unless they repented through faith and produced ‘fruit in keeping with repentance‘ v.8). We should act honestly, be generous and live contentedly. Jesus would come to ‘baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire(v.16).

Speaking the truth can make powerful people your enemies. John’s ministry was cut short by Herod after John rebuked him for his adultery and for ‘all the other evil things he had done’ (v.19).

Jesus was baptized – ‘and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove‘ (v.22). Baptism is necessary for Christians to enter heaven. It gives us a supernatural life as an adopted child of God. We receive an indelible stamp on our soul from being baptized that shows we are part of the family of God. It’s strange that Protestants can be much more strict and ‘religious’ about baptism that Catholics. Many denominations insist that a baptism has to involve full immersion under the water to be ‘valid’ when of course, the desire to be baptised and the ‘Spirit’ by which it is carried out are the important elements. It’s great if a baptism can be full immersion but it’s not always practical. Even when people aim for full immersion they often use baths in people’s houses and there are always elbows or knees sticking out of the water. Not even the most litigious demon is going to stand at the gate of heaven and argue that someone can’t go in because their elbow didn’t go under the water. All Christian baptisms – even those with just a sprinkling of water are fully valid as long as the person carrying out the baptism pronounces the words: ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. When it comes to eternal life, I am not taking any chances and so I have enthusiastically embraced baptism, confirmation, ‘baptism in the spirit’ and faithfully prayed the ‘sinner prayer’ to be ‘born again’. I feel that the Holy Spirit only really started to work within me to cut unholy things out of my life after I started to spend longer periods ‘praying in the Spirit’. Allowing the Holy Spirit more access to my life, allowed him to progress with His work of sanctification (making me holier ready for heaven). Baptism is a massive topic, which we concentrate on in a separate article

God confirmed that Jesus was his Son, with whom he was well pleased. I love the Hillsong Worship song, which allows us, due to Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross and our own baptism to shout: ‘I’m a child of God. Yes I am!‘.

Psalms 35:19-28

People often devise false accusations against those who live quietly (v.20). They can actively gossip and plot against people who are minding their own business. We should always avoid gossip.

People either make up slanderous stories or look out for wrong and delight when they think they have found it, ‘Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it’ (v.21) Tragically, there is a lot of accusatory behaviour amongst Christians. I have read blogs where writers heavily criticise other Christians for practicing in a different way from them, using a different Bible translation from them or even enjoying their lives and making jokes. Pope Francis calls us all to be ‘joy-filled evangelists’ and that does include a healthy sense of humour. Anyone who is a Christian is our sister and brother. A sign of the Holy Spirit is being ‘ecumenical’ (delighting in the company and teaching of all other Christians). Evil spirits delight in trying to split Christians into different factions and there are evil spirits named ‘anti-Catholicism’ or ‘Sectarianism’. If you have an aversion to any other Christian denomination, you need to bind up the spirit that might be contributing to your feelings in Jesus’ name and pray for God’s forgiveness, renouncing and repenting your behaviour, ‘for whoever is not against us is for us’ (Mark 9:40).

Jesus taught us to pray for blessings for our enemies. Interesting that David, a man after God’s own heart, often prayed for harm to come to his enemies; that they may be ‘put to shame and confusion’ or ‘clothed with shame and disgrace’ (v.26).

We can leave righteous justice to the Lord and proclaim to the world everyday how great and good He is.

Awake, and rise to my defence. Contend for me, O Lord

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