King David flees / Stephen Seized: June 10th 2021

2 Samuel 15:13-16:14

David was informed that his son, Absalom, had treacherously stolen the hearts of the men of Israel.

David decided to flee from Jerusalem, along with all his officials. The king left ten concubines behind to ‘take care of the palace’ (2 Sam.15:16). What could possibly go wrong with this plan seeing that Nathan had prophesied: ‘I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight’ (2 Sam.12:11)?

Ittai the Gittite showed far more loyalty to King David than his own son. Ittai promised that he and his men would stay with David (2 Sam.15:21). The whole countryside wept as the king passed by accompanied by Zadok, the priest, and the Levites carrying the ark of the covenant.

David told the priests Zadok and Abiathar to take the ark back to Jerusalem. David had total confidence in the Lord’s righteous judgement as to whether he saw it again: ‘Let him do to me whatever seems good to him’ (2 Sam.15:25).

David went up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. He was barefoot and had covered his head. David prayed that his son Absalom would receive foolish advice and sent one of his friends back to Jerusalem as a spy.

Ziba, the steward of Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth, met David and provided him with donkeys and a copious supply of provisions. However, he slandered his master to King David, who believed him and gave him all Mephibosheth’s land and possessions.

A man called Shimei, from the same clan as Saul, came out and cursed David, throwing stones at him. One of David’s men offered to cut off Shimei’s head but David would not allow this. He knew that there was truth in Shimei’s accusation that he was ‘a man of blood’ (2 Sam.16:8). David told his men to let Shimei curse him as the Lord might see his distress and repay him with good (2 Sam.16:12). David and his men arrived at their destination exhausted but he then refreshed himself.

David had suffered a hard, difficult day but he had seen loyalty from his faithful friends and allies and he had shown patience, long-suffering and restraint. He had wept, walked barefoot and exhausted himself but at the end of the day, he had been refreshed by the provenance of God.

Acts 6:1-7:19

The apostles wisely decided that they could not do all the work themselves and so asked the disciples to choose seven men to help them. These were the first deacons of the church. They had to be ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6:3). The disciples were very pleased with this proposal. They chose seven men, including Stephen, and presented them to the apostles, who then prayed and laid their hands on them.

It is a sign of a healthy church community when as many people as possible get involved in running it. We all have gifts and talents we can use to lighten the load and invigorate our worship. I have been to churches that are dying because the priest keeps most jobs to himself, refuses to delegate and only grudgingly allows a few people in a tiny clique to assist. If you are never asked to do anything at your church, move to where you can be fruitful, grow and be appreciated.

The number of disciples in Jerusalem grew at an exponential rate as the word of God spread and a large number of Jewish priests came over to the faith.

Stephen, one of the seven new deacons, performed great wonders and miraculous signs (Acts 6:8). However, people began to argue with him and their pride was dented because he could never be defeated in an argument (Acts 6:10). They stirred up false witnesses to testify against him. Like all the best lies, there was an element of truth to some of their statements: the new Christian community would permanently ‘change the customs Moses (had) handed down’ (Acts 6:14).

Stephen, with a face of an angel, delivered an impressive speech to the Sanhedrin giving them the whole history of the Jewish race starting with their patriarch, Abraham. Stephen proved that he was very knowledgeable of the scriptures and the Holy Spirit made him eloquent.

We never have to worry what to say if we are dragged in front of the authorities and persecuted for our Christian faith. The Holy Spirit will give us wisdom and the right words to say.

Psalm 71:19-24

The Psalmist asks: ‘Who, O God, is like you?’ (Psalm 71:19). His righteousness reaches to the skies.

Saint Michael is the commander of God’s angel army. Michael means ‘Who is like God?’ in tribute to the awesomeness of his creator.

During our lives we will see many bitter troubles but God will always restore us. We should not lose heart when God rebukes us because he disciplines the people he loves (Hebrews 12:5-6).

God will increase our honour, comfort us again (Psalm 71:21) and the discipline we suffer will produce a harvest of righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:11).

God is faithful and worthy of our praise. Praising God vigorously gives us joy, comfort and peace. When we are born again, we want to give everyone our testimony, telling everyone of God’s righteous acts.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_stoning_of_St_Stephen._Oil_painting_attributed_to_Orazio_Wellcome_V0017355.jpg

Choose Life / Use your Minas wisely and Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem: April 19th 2021

Deuteronomy 30:11-31:29

God gave the Israelites an offer of life that was not too difficult for them or beyond their reach (v.1). ‘The Word (of God) is very near you; it is in your mouth and in you heart so that you may obey it (v.14).

Moses said that the Israelites did not need someone to ascend into heaven to fetch the word of God and proclaim it to them (v.12). They already knew it. However, because of their persistent rebellion and disobedience, in the end Jesus, the actual word of God, did have to descend from heaven to rescue us.

Moses gave them a clear choice which we all still face today, ‘See, I set before your today life and prosperity, death and destruction (v.15). Each of us has to decide whether to love and follow God: listening to and trusting in his voice, walking in his ways, enjoying his blessings and being granted eternal life or rejecting him, following other idols and choosing eternal separation from him. We all choose between, ‘life and death, blessings and curses’ (v.19). I have chosen life. Have you?

Moses had to retire just before he died at the age of 120. His assistant, Joshua, would cross the Jordan as the new leader of the Israelites. Moses encouraged his people to be strong and courageous as, ‘the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you’ (31:6).

Moses encouraged Joshua, in the presence of all Israel (v.7). Moses might have felt disappointed that he would not be allowed to enter the promised land but he did not sulk and become bitter. He magnanimously handed on the baton of leadership to Joshua with his blessing and encouragement. We all have to retire someday – if God spares us until that time. It is marvellous to hand over to competent people that we have selected and trained.

Moses wrote down the law (v.9). Trendy Christian theologians dismiss the tradition that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible and suggest it is an amalgamation of up to three different writers’ work. I think they are just trying to make a name for themselves, to massage their own egos. When to comes to the Old Testament, it is logical to stick with Jewish tradition. Moses wrote the Torah under the direction of God. It may appear as different styles depending on how much God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were dictating / inspiring any particular section. Moses wrote the book of the law ‘from beginning to end‘ and it was placed ‘beside the ark of the covenant’ as ‘a witness against you’. Moses is the best-selling author in history.

The Jews were instructed to read out the law at the end of every seven years when debts were cancelled (v.11). It would be particularly important to educate their children (v.13). So many children are open to faith today but ignorant of the gospel message. Sunday schools are vitally important.

God knows all our futures and so he predicted that the Israelites will soon go astray (v.16). When they inevitably turned to other Gods, he would turn his face from them and they would be destroyed (v.17). Moses would die and ‘rest’ with his fathers (v.16). It must have been intimidating for Joshua to lead the Israelites into numerous battles knowing that they were ultimately doomed, because of their free choice to sin. They just had to take one day at a time, God promised Joshua success in the relatively short-term project of conquering the promised land. Joshua had to choose to be strong and courageous (v.23). He drew his strength from the knowledge that God was always with him.

Our society is still just as ‘stiff-necked and rebellious’ (v.27) as the Israelites were, despite salvation being offered to us on a plate. Millions of people have used their gift of free-will to prostitute themselves with other gods. Covid-19 highlighted our society’s lack of obedience with some people even refusing to believe the existence of the deadly virus and steadfastly fighting the temporary imposition of masks / lockdowns that was imposed for their own safety. The spirit of lies and unbelief has formed a stronghold in many people’s hearts. Ask yourself if unbelief has set up a camp within you. If so, command it to leave ‘in the name of Jesus’ and open yourself up to a childlike faith and trust in God.

Luke 19:11-44

Jesus taught ‘the parable of the ten minas’ to illustrate that God’s kingdom was not going to appear immediately. Jesus has temporarily ascended into heaven and has left it to us, his disciples on earth, to get on with advancing his kingdom. He has given each of us a certain amount of faith and talent and expects us to multiply God’s work throughout the world before he returns. We will rewarded when he returns and assesses the fruits of our labour. Jesus said that the servant with the single mina should have put in on deposit. I think ‘putting it on deposit’ relates to Christians who only go to church and do nothing else with their faith. Their faith is just ticking over with hardly any gain – just minimal interest – waiting for Christ to return. The servant in this parable performs even worse than this and hides the gift they have been entrusted with in a piece of cloth. This is like baptized Christians who don’t even make the effort to attend church once per week to worship and give thanks to God.

The enemies who are executed in the front of the King are like secular campaigners who fight to remove religion from every aspect of life – from trying to remove bishops from the House of Lords to stopping prayers being said in school. They actively work against the eternal king and by rejecting the gospel and the kingship of Jesus choose for themselves eternal separation and death – ‘bring them (unbelievers) here and kill them in front of me’ (v.27).

Jesus humbly rides on a colt, the foal of a donkey, into Jerusalem to fulfil the prophecy in Zechariah (9:9): ‘Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

This is the start to the greatest cataclysmic struggle between good and evil that the world has ever witnessed. All of creation had been waiting for it. If the people watching it had kept quiet, ‘the stones will cry out (v.40)’. This showed how Jesus, as the creator of the whole earth, was so in tune with everything in it. Even the stones were on his side and longing for mankind to be justified by his blood that would pour onto the earth.

Even though he was coming to conquer the devil, Jesus still wept over Jerusalem (v.41). Its people did not recognise the type of everlasting victory he would achieve. Even though Jesus has provided a path to eternal life and happiness he doesn’t want us to suffer in this life. He did not want his people to suffer the devastation that would come in a few decades time when the occupying Roman forces destroyed the temple.

Psalm 48:1-8

God is great and most worthy of our praise (v.1).

Jerusalem is the holy city of God. It is meant to ‘be the joy of the whole earth’ (v.2) but its holy sites are hotly contested by Jews, Christians and Moslems. Abraham proved himself righteous by being prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac, at Jerusalem, which led to him founding God’s holy people. Jesus won our redemption from death at Jerusalem and so the city is a site of joy for all Christians. The Christian church is the new Jerusalem, the glorious bride of Christ.

As hostile kings advanced on Jerusalem they saw how God protected the city, were astounded and fled with trembling and fear.

God makes Jerusalem secure for ever. We have heard of his mighty works regarding this city and, if we believe, we can see his mighty works of salvation operating in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/palm-sunday-easter-torrevieja-ramos-4903110/

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