The Baptism of Jesus / Call of the Disciples: 30th April 2021

Joshua 17:1-18:28

The Israelites struck a blow for women’s rights as the daughters of the tribe of Manasseh received an inheritance among the sons (v.6).

The land of Gilead was assigned to the rest of the descendants of Manasseh. They went on to make a renowned rare, perfumed healing balm that inspired this beautiful song. The Balm of Gilead is interpreted as a spiritual medicine that is able to heal Israel (and sinners in general) i.e. Jesus’ Christ’s precious blood that he poured out for us on the cross.

The Canaanites put up strong resistance in areas that they were determined not to give up (v.12), However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labour (v.13). The Canaanites were a sophisticated fighting force and had iron chariots (v.16) – formidably effective when fighting on a plain. Joshua encouraged the people of Joseph: ‘You are numerous and very powerful’ (v.17). They would be able to conquer the land with God’s help despite the chariots of their enemies.

The tent of meeting was set up at Shiloh (18:1). Seven tribes were still to receive an inheritance and so three men from each tribe were sent out to survey the land. It would then be split into seven parts and allocated by lot. The only proviso was that the tribe of Joseph would remain in the North and Judah would remain in the South. Joshua showed his wisdom and trust in the Lord. Casting lots, in the presence of the Lord, would ensure that the land was allocated as God desired. God can influence the role of the dice when required. Amongst my many sins as a teenager, I used to play the role-playing game: ‘Dungeons and Dragons‘. I have since renounced and repented of such activities. Before starting, you have to choose to play as one of 12 character classes, such as fighters, clerics or sorcerers (I told you this was a dodgy activity). You then make decisions, while imagining you are this fantasy character, about how to progress in various adventures (made up by an imaginative friend, termed a ‘Dungeon Master’). The idea is to progress through various adventures, nurturing your character, making him (or her) stronger and gathering treasure by battling legendary creatures. The outcome of fights are determined by rolling various strangely-shaped multicoloured dice. I always choose to be a paladin – a charismatic / fancy type of knight. I was always particularly attracted to the word ‘charisma’. One day, our ‘Dungeon Master’ was in a particularly vindictive mood and set up our adventure so we would have to fight the powerful demon, Asmodeus, one of the Biblical big-hitters in the book of Tobit. He basically wanted to kill off all our characters whom we had nurtured for months. I waded into battle – a certain suicide mission as I would have to roll sixes continually on a normal dice to win. However, there was an option to invoke the angel Gabriel for help in the battle and, lo and behold, after asking for angelic assistance every time I rolled the dice in fantasy ‘combat’ with the demon, I rolled a six. I rolled about twenty sixes in a row and defeated this virtually invincible foe. The probability of this occurring is infinitesimally small. Someone was controlling the outcome of those dice rolls to show that when I ask for help, evil can be defeated no matter how impossible it seems. There are other forces in the room when people play games like this. Don’t do it kids, stick to less ‘spiritual’ games. I would say ‘Monopoly’ but that combines being immoral with being incredibly dull. Maybe kick a football around outside instead.

John 1:29-51

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him and proclaimed ‘Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ The Holy Spirit residing in John gave him a prophetic word of knowledge allowing him to tell the future of his holy relative. The blood of the Passover lambs applied to the door frames and lintels of the Israelites’ houses in Egypt protected them from death as the destroying angel passed over. Jesus’ blood saves us from our sins, destroying death and opening the gates of heaven for us.

Even though Jesus was born six months after John, Jesus was ‘before him’ (v.30) as ‘he was with God in the beginning’ of all things (v.2).

John revealed the reason he had been baptizing. It was so that Jesus ‘might be revealed to Israel’ (v.31). John had seen the Holy Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Jesus. John testified that Jesus ‘is the Son of God’ (v.34). Jesus was 100% God and 100% human – a unique mathematical mystery.

Some pastors say that Jesus didn’t perform any miracles before the Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism. I don’t think we can be so sure as Jesus was 100% filled with the Holy Spirit from the time of his conception. If he didn’t perform miracles in his ‘hidden years’, it would have been because he freely chose to lay aside his supernatural Godly powers until he was publicly revealed as the Son of God. We will find out more of the story when we get to heaven. I remember Monty Python publishing an amusing school report for God that complained about Him parting the waters of the swimming pool, ‘which was both unsporting and dangerous’: https://friarminor.blogspot.com/2009/09/monty-pythons-report-card-for-god.html

Andrew was the first disciple to follow Jesus. Verse 35 shows that he was originally John’s disciple but went after Jesus when John identified him as ‘the Lamb of God’. I have visited Saint Andrew’s tomb in Edinburgh cathedral. The first thing that Andrew did after finding Jesus was to find his brother, Simon and tell him ‘We have found the Messiah’ (v.41). Andrew brought his brother to Jesus, who renamed him ‘Peter’, which translates as rock. It is one of our roles as disciples to bring people to meet Christ. Jesus will have a great future mapped out for them.

The next day Jesus finds Philip and asks him to follow him. Philip found Nathanael (who many people think is the same person as Bartholomew) and told him to ‘come and see Jesus’ (v.46). Church tradition is that Nathanael / Bartholomew later carried a translation of Matthew’s gospel to India.

Nathanael was sceptical about Jesus when he heard that he was from Nazareth. ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (v.46). My wife pours a similar amount of light-hearted scorn on me for growing up in Essex. Nazareth did not have a good reputation see: https://www.gotquestions.org/Matthew-2-23-Jesus-Nazarene.html

Jesus was able to instantly assess Nathanael’s character, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false’ (v.47). He had seen him under a fig tree before Philip had called him.

Nathanael blurted out, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel’ (v.49). Both Jesus and these early disciples are all being moved by the Holy Spirit to utter prophetic words of knowledge.

Jesus saw in Nathanael some of the qualities of the patriarch Jacob and promised him the same sort of vision that Jacob had experienced: ‘You shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’ (v.51).

It is touching to read how these disciples started their life with Jesus and remember how they kept their faith until their violent deaths. Saint Andrew was crucified on 30 November 60AD, by order of the Roman governor Aegeas. He was tied to an X-shaped cross in Greece, and this is represented by the white cross on the Scottish flag. Saint Peter was crucified upside down in Rome during the reign of the tyrannical Emperor Nero. Saint Philip was scourged and crucified in Egypt. Nathanael / Bartholomew the apostle was either flayed alive and beheaded in Armenia or crucified upside down (head downward) like Saint Peter. Even if they could have foreseen their eventual appaling fate, this men would still have chosen to follow Jesus. https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/64320/Local-News/How-did-the-apostles-die

Many people go on holidays and unwisely visit temples that are not Christian – from which you can bring back unholy oppressing spirits. It is much better to visit great Christian cathedrals and shrines when you are are abroad. So far in my life, I have visited various magnificent cathedrals preserving the relics of Saints Peter, Mark and Andrew. I have also visited the relatively simple grave of Saint Patrick in Northern Ireland that was being guarded by an impressive raven. I would love to visit Santiago de Compostela in Spain to visit the tomb of Saint James. Why go on holiday and just bake on a beach when you can enhance your Christian faith by seeing that these heroes of faith were real people? They battled for Jesus and heroically died for their faith. As far as God is concerned, they are still alive They will intercede for us in heaven, we just have to think about them and ask them in prayer.

Proverbs 10

The book of Proverbs often mentions wisdom. God had bestowed Solomon with more wisdom than anyone else on the planet but Solomon still messed up his life – through being seduced by his hundreds of foreign wives to worship their deities.

Before his fall from grace, his temporarily righteous mouth did bring forth wisdom (v.1)

The mouth of the wicked knows only what is perverse. We may have strange thoughts pop into our minds during the day. Lewd jokes or scurrilous gossip. We should bat these thoughts away in the name of Jesus as they only take on a life of their own when we actually vocalise them. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can know what is fitting to say.

God hates people who cheat others (11:1). We should be guided by our integrity.

Our wealth will be no use to us when faced with death or the end of the world. We will only be rescued by righteousness, which we have obtained through the precious blood of Christ. This righteousness makes a straight way for us and delivers us from death and decay. Christ’s righteousness will rescue us from trouble. Our hope does not perish when we die, we hope for everlasting life through the mercy of God because of our belief in his son, Jesus.

Image: Ottavio Vannini (1585-c. 1643), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus dies on the Cross: April 26th 2021

Joshua 9:16-10:43

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 23:26-56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 10:21-30

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

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

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

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

Rahab and the Spies / Fall of Jerusalem: April 22nd 2021

Joshua 1:1-2:24

It was time for Joshua to step up and replace the Old Testament’s greatest leader, Moses. No pressure! He had to lead millions of people across the Jordan to conquer the promised land. They must wrestle it from well organised hostile tribes, some of whom were giants, living in walled cities. This was a task impossible for men, but nothing is impossible for God!

God promised to never leave his new servant Joshua or forsake him (v.5). The Israelites, in return, just had to obey the law that Moses had given them. The Israelites all exhorted themselves and their leader to be ‘strong and courageous’ (v.18). They knew the challenge ahead of them.

God would give Joshua ‘every place where you place your foot’ (v.3). Joshua had to have enough courageous faith in God that we would actually step into enemy territory. He couldn’t just wait on the safe side of the Jordan and believe the land would be given to him. Joshua actually had to boldly step out in faith, in partnership with God, to conquer the land.

Joshua sent out two spies who are hidden by the wise prostitute, Rahab, who lived in Jericho. The great walled city, Jericho, was first on the list to be conquered. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, was descended from Rahab. She reformed her ways after she teamed up with the Israelites and married a man called Salmon. They were the parents of Boaz – a key figure in the book of Ruth (see the genealogy in Matthew 1:5).

Rahab was courageous enough to defy the king of Jericho by hiding the Jewish spies. She knew that the Israelites would conquer the city, ‘for the Lord your God is heaven above and on the earth below (v.11). The news of God drying up the Red Sea and defeating the kings of the Amorites had gone before them. By her faith, courage, and (let’s face it) lies for a good cause, Rahab saved both herself and her entire family. The Israelite spies promised her and her family would be spared when when the city was overthrown.

The spies told Joshua that the Lord had given the whole land into their hands because ‘all the people are melting in fear because of us’ (v.24). We should feel as positive as those spies when we pray for people to be delivered from demonic powers. We have power and authority over them because of the name of Jesus, which is above all other names. At the name of Jesus, all evil spirits melt with fear.

Luke 21:5-38

Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in AD 70 by the Romans. All architecture and nature itself will come to an end at the final judgement. Everything on this earth is temporary.

Jesus predicted that there would be wars and great trials: ‘earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven (v.11) before he came again. Before this, Christians will be persecuted. We should not worry about how to defend ourselves (v.14). Jesus will give us ‘words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict’ (v.15).

Jesus warned Christians that ‘all men will hate you because of me’ (v.17). It certainly feels like this when we campaign for pro-life issues and stand up for basic morality. Jesus strengthens us not to give up and join in with modern secular society, the society of death, ‘by standing firm you will gain life’ (v.19).

After great signs in the heavens, Jesus will come ‘in a cloud with power and great glory’ (v.27). Most of the world will be terrified at this site but not Christians. We will stand up and lift up our heads, because our redemption is drawing near (v.28). This passage seems to imply there is no such thing as ‘the rapture’, when some think Christians will float off up into the air before the second coming of Jesus. Jesus said we will need to stand up and lift up our heads – which we couldn’t do if we had already floated up into space.

We must not be weighed down with depression, lack of energy, drunkenness and anxieties (v.34). We must keep soldiering on positively until the end, watching out and praying that we will be able to stand confidently before Jesus when he arrives.

Jesus was a fantastic teacher speaking anointed words. People got up early in the morning and flocked to the temple to hear him. His words will never pass away and are enshrined in the precious Bible. Let us get up early each morning and rush to read his word. It is the perfect start. Each day, we can reflect on what we have learned and apply it to that day’s experiences.

Proverbs 10:11-20

If we choose to say words that are righteous, we can bring life to people (v.1).

There is a lot of dissension in the world stirred up by hatred. In contrast, ‘love covers over all wrongs’ (v.12).

If we work in a worthwhile job, we will thrive. We should not earn an income by damaging the environment or acting immorally, ‘the income of the wicked brings them punishment’ (v.16).

We should heed positive criticism and discipline. Persistent rule-breakers lead others astray (v.17). It is easy to say to ourselves, ‘well, everyone else is doing it’ about an illegal or immoral act.

We need to forgive others – with both our lips and our hearts as ‘he who conceals his hatred has lying lips’ (v.18). It is wise to keep quiet when we don’t have anything good to say about people. Before speaking, we should ask ourselves: ‘is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?’ Our words should build people up, not slander them in a sinful way: ‘the tongue of the righteous is choice silver’ (v.20). A wicked heart is of little value but baptized Christians have the Holy Spirit residing in their hearts, sanctifying them and making them holier day by day.

Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Zacchaeus the Chief Tax Collector: 18th April 2021

Deuteronomy 29:1-30:10

The Israelites had witnessed the miraculous sings and wonders as the Lord rescued them from Egypt but they had not been given ‘a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear’ (v.4). The Holy Spirit living permanently inside baptized Christians informs us about the truth so that we can understand the wonders of the Father.

God not only provided food supernaturally for forty years (as manna) he also ensured that the Israelite’s ‘clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet’ (v.5).

They couldn’t blame their rebellious behaviour on alcohol, ‘you ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink’ (v.6).

We cannot think that we will be safe when we persist in going our own way’ (v.19). When we are baptized / born again we need to hand over our lives to God and walk in his ways, not continue in persistent sin worshipping other worthless idols and Gods. The Lord can blot people’s names out from heaven (v.21).

Moses predicted that the Israelites would break their covenant and would be scattered to the most distant lands under the heavens. When they started to obey him again, they would be gathered and brought back and made more prosperous and numerous than before. We have seen this in the miraculous reinstatement of Israel after the Second World War. God would ‘circumcise’ their hearts so that they may love God with all their heart and soul (v.6). Countries that persecute Israel are cursed – as can be seen by the devastating wars / poverty and refugee crises in the neighbouring regions. The Lord promised to delight in the Jews again and make them prosperous (30:9).

God wants us to turn to him with all our heart and all our soul. If we confess our sins directly to God, we really have to mortified and horrified by the fact we have sinned. We have to have ‘perfect contrition’. We can’t go on carrying out the same sins week after week. If we do, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to come into out hearts, hand our prayers over to him so he can pray the perfect prayer through us and allow him to change us.

Luke 18:31-19:10

Jesus plainly told the twelve disciples what was going to happen to him but ‘the disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about’ (v.34). It is fascinating that God can conceal the truth from some people. When you love the Lord will all your heart, it is really frustrating when other people just don’t get it. They carry on with their secular lives with no consideration for the love of their Father and the wondrous things he has done for them. This passage shows how God can block the truth from some people. Maybe he is waiting for someone to pray for them and that person is you or I – for their eyes to see, their ears to hear, for them to understand, to turn to God, believe and be saved.

A blind beggar shouted out as Jesus passed, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ (v.38). The people in the crowd ‘who led the way’ told him to be quiet but he shouted all the more (v.39). The actual people leading Jesus didn’t want Jesus to be distracted, slow down and stop and actually do his healing work. They just wanted to parade and be seen in his company by as many people as possible to build up their own ego. Jesus had to order them to bring the man to him. Many Christians are happy for their religion to be a showy spectacle for others to look at but unless it is backed up by deeds it is worthless. We should always be prepared to postpone parades and ceremonies to carry out the actual work of God.

The beggar knew that Jesus could heal him and grabbed his once in a lifetime chance to talk to him as he passed. So many Christians do not grab opportunities when they present themselves, missing the chance to grow in faith. The blind man’s faith heals him when he turns to Jesus (v.42). Even though the crowd hadn’t wanted him to receive personal attention, the miracle also strengthens their faith.

Jesus converts Zacchaeus, a Chief tax collector, by a miraculous word of knowledge. The Holy Spirit whispered Zacchaeus’ name to Jesus and that Jesus should stay at his house tonight. Jesus called him down from his ‘sycamore-fig’ tree and this ‘Chief’ tax collector humbly obeyed. Through praying in tongues, we can open ourselves up to other supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Having supernatural knowledge about someone and the trials they are going through can break through the toughest resistance to God. Zacchaeus turned from greed and corruption and became generous and hospitable. He made ample restitution to the people he had wronged and gave to the poor. This is in contrast to the Rich Ruler (Luke 18;18-25) who became very sad at having to give to the poor ‘because he was a man of great wealth’.

Through saving a Chief Tax Collector, Jesus probably also saved the more junior tax collectors that worked for Zacchaeus as they would have seen his new life of faith, honesty and integrity. They would have witnessed a changed man.

The crowd were wrong again. They tried to stop a blind beggar from being healed and then they grumbled about a Chief tax collector finding salvation. They probably thought that only someone like themselves deserved Jesus’s attention.

Zacchaeus had realised that his ill-gotten wealth meant nothing and was delighted to give it away. His life of wealth, power and privilege was empty without God. He wanted to live up to promise of his birth name; Zacchaeus means ‘pure’, before the lure of riches corrupted him. Through his example and Jesus’s visit, all of his family would also be saved, ‘Today salvation has come to this house’ (v.9).

My name, Jonathan, means ‘Gift of God’. It is great to reflect on the meaning of our Christian names to see if we are living up to it. Even if you were giving a secular name when born, with no deeper meaning, you can choose a ‘Christian name’ when you are confirmed / join the church. It is wonderful to share a name with one of the characters in the Bible or a Christian saint. I choose Michael, after my favourite saint. His name means, ‘Who is like God?’ i.e. who has the temerity to challenge our all-powerful God for his throne? It should be no-one but of course the devil tried to do so. When Zacchaeus’s parents named him ‘pure’, they might have been very embarrassed when their beloved child grew to became a corrupt tax collector in league with the Roman occupiers. Even more so, as he received multiple promotions to become Chief Tax Collector. However, our early life and career can dramatically change once we meet Jesus. I do try now to act like a ‘gift of God’ and Zacchaeus finally grew into his name. Naming a child can have a prophetic element to it.

Jesus came to seek and invite inveterate sinners to turn in a new direction to salvation. I praise God that he sought and saved me.

Proverbs 10:1-10

If we ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and act on it, we can bring joy to our parents (v.1).

If we cheat and steal to get wealth, we will gain no lasting satisfaction from it. It is if no eternal value and will leave us feeling empty while on earth. We need to build up wealth in heaven by carrying out the work of God.

The Lord won’t let the ‘righteous go hungry’ (v.3). If we are diligent we can provide for ourselves and our families. God does not like laziness.

The righteous are crowned with blessings and we look back on them with fond memories. If we are wise, we accept instructions. If we haven’t got anything perceptive or wise to say, it is best to stay quiet as ‘a chattering fool comes to ruin’ (v.8). If we take crooked paths we will be found out and prior to this, live in fear of being found out.

if we live a live full of integrity, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will always walk securely, carefree and safe in the love and knowledge of God.

Image: Tango7174, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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