The Transfiguration: April 3rd 2021

Numbers 35:1-36:13

The Lord commanded Moses to give the Levites forty-eight towns from the territory the Israelites ‘will possess’ (v.2). As far as God was concerned, the conquering of the Promised Land with his help was a done deal. None of the resident tribes in their walled cities could have prevented this from happening. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

Cities of refuge‘ had to be created where a person, who had accidentally killed someone, could flee and remain safe before their fair trial. God loves justice. Today, we recognise the difference between accidental manslaughter and intentional murder in our modern justice system. God mandated the death penalty for murder but only on the testimony of multiple witnesses. No-one was to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness (v.30). Life imprisonment wasn’t practical when the nation was wandering around the desert for forty years.

In the New Covenant post Jesus, we shouldn’t support the death penalty. We have been told to forgive and bless our enemies – not to kill them. Justice has to be served and so life-time imprisonment is appropriate for unrepentant / dangerous offenders. We cannot risk killing the innocent due to a miscarriage of justice.

If a person committed accidental manslaughter, they had to live in a city of refuge ‘until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with holy oil’ (v.25). We still utilise ‘holy oil’ today. It is known as Chrism. It is used to: anoint priests or bishops; consecrate churches, holy vessels, and altars; and as part of the baptismal rite. Chrism cleanses, strengthens and sets people and objects apart for God’s service. At confirmation, the Bishop traces the Sign of the Cross with chrism on the forehead of the one being confirmed and says, “[Name], be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

To consecrate holy chrism oil, normally an annual event on the Wednesday of Holy Week, a bishop mixes aromatic balsam with olive oil, breathes on the mixed oil to signify the presence of the Holy Spirit, and says a prayer over it.

“Do not pollute the land where you are, Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it’, (v.33). During Covid lockdown, we currently have the horrors of home abortion. Pregnant women are sent two sets of abortion pills through the post having had no scan to show them their developing baby or check how old it is. These poor women are aborting their child, often by themselves, in their own showers or bedrooms. It is a horrific process with their bed mattress and carpets becoming permanently stained with blood to remind them of what they have done. They also have to dispose of their dead, unborn baby. Even prior to this, some people were taking home their aborted child and burying it in their own garden. Homes in the UK are gradually becoming polluted with bloodshed and this could cause real spiritual problems for the current inhabitants and anyone who may purchase these properties in the future. https://www.spuc.org.uk/News/ID/384421/The-day-SPUCs-worst-fears-on-remote-abortions-were-realised

The book of Numbers dramatically finishes with an order from God, ‘Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites’ (v.34).

In the current New Covenant, since our Father and Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit, our Lord dwells inside all baptized Christians.

Luke 9:28-56

Yesterday, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:27). Many people incorrectly think this referred to the end of the world, final judgment and the righteous going to heaven and that Jesus’ prophecy was therefore wrong. However, Jesus was referring to the event known as ‘The Transfiguration’, which occured ‘about eight days later’ (v.28). All Jesus’ prophecies happened on time.

The ‘some who are standing here’ means Peter, John and James who were taken up a mountain and saw Jesus’ face changed and his clothes becoming ‘as bright as a flash of lightning’ (v.29).

Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared ‘in glorious splendour’ (v.30) to talk to Jesus. The text doesn’t say, ‘two dead men’. Moses and Elijah are perfectly fit and well. In fact, they appeared to be in much better shape (in glorious splendour) than they were when previously seen. This is because, ‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive’ (Luke 20:38). This shows the validity of praying to ‘dead’ saints and asking for them to intercede for us. Moses often talked to God, on behalf of the Israelites, often begging God not to kill them for their disobedience. If God listened to Moses when he was on earth, how much more would He listen to Moses, when he is up in heaven with Him. Praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary and asking for her to intercede for us – exerting her motherly influence on her son, Jesus, is if course particularly effective and biblical. If Mary interceded at the wedding at Cana resulting in Jesus making bounteous quantities of new wine, she will intercede for us now she is installed in heaven. A host of wonderful saints sit up in heaven in the cloud of witnesses, watching all our daily work, just waiting for us to ask for their assistance. Praying to Saint Joseph, the role modal of good fathers, is also particularly effective. If you have ever asked for a pastor or a priest to pray for you on earth, asking a holy person in heaven to pray for you works on exactly the same principal.

Peter wanted to preserve the transfiguration by building shelters for the three great prophets to stay on the mountain (v.33) but this was just to be a fleeting vision of the kingdom of God. They were going to have to descend the mountain and get back to their work. However, these three disciples would have carried this vision of our transfigured Lord in their hearts forever. It would strengthen them during troubled times in their future.

After descending the mountain, they are soon back in the thick of the action as the remaining disciples have failed to exorcise a young boy, who was suffering from a dramatic case of demonic possession. It looked like a case of epilepsy, but the symptoms were caused by an evil spirit. This was a serious case: ‘it scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him (v.39). Demons can’t resist making people suffer. They ultimately want to kill their hosts if they are allowed to.

In Matthew 17: 20, Jesus told the disciples they failed to cast out the demon ‘because they have so little faith’. In Mark 9:29, Jesus said, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer’. So even though the disciples had been successful on previous occasions, they eventually came across a demon that was so powerful and had become so entrenched in a person, the small amount of faith they had so far accumulated was not sufficient. Perhaps they were commanding the demon to leave in the name of Jesus, without also praying to God for it to leave. Today, we can combine commanding a demon to leave in Jesus’ name with the perfect prayer – by allowing the Holy Spirit to pray through us by praying in tongues.

The story shows us that when we come across a person with a spiritual problem, we should not give up after one attempt at deliverance. We are on the Victory Side and all demons are part of a defeated army. Their only hope is to try to remain undetected and destroy their hosts from within. Once, we know that someone has a demon, it has lost the battle. It is like a trapped rat in a barrel. We simply have to keep hitting it with a variety of spiritual baseballs bats until it leaves. If our prayers are ineffective initially, we can pray and fast before having another attempt. If it still won’t shift, we ask for help from someone with more faith, a higher degree of spiritual authority or a supernatural gift of deliverance. We just keep going, trying different approaches, wear it down and win through perseverance.

Jesus tells us to welcome everybody – even a little child with little knowledge, influence or money. We should welcome everybody with no thought as to what we can get from them.

Jesus told the disciples not to stop a man driving out demons in Jesus’ name, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you’ (v.50). This is a call for Christians of all denominations to work together. We are all family and should love each other and not quibble about slight differences in doctrine. I am a Catholic, yet spend the majority of time with lovely Pentecostals. I have learnt a lot from them and I hope I complement their worship in some way.

Jesus was not welcomed in a Samaritan village ‘because he was heading for Jerusalem’ (v.53). Maybe, he would have had a different reception if he had gone specifically to their village to teach them the gospel. Samaritans had ‘urged him to stay with them’ in John 4:40. They had acknowledged that Jesus really was the Saviour of the World. James and John suggested cataclysmic retribution for rejecting Jesus and were publicly rebuked. Jesus remained gentle, loving, forgiving and patient in the face of rudeness and rejection.

Psalm 40:9-17

King David speaks publicly about the righteousness of God (v.9) He does not hide the truth about God, he speaks of his love, truth, faithfulness and salvation (v.10). We should confidently proclaim our faith in God in all public forums.

David is in anguish surrounded by troubles, overtaken by sin, with his heart failing within him but he is still generous to others in prayer, ‘But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you’ (v.16).

David is King but is not proud. He fully recognises his dependence on God, ‘Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me (v.17). Even though he urges God not to delay, David fully trusts that God will will save him in the end, ‘You are my hope and deliverer’ (v.17).

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

Jesus brings a child back to life: April 1st 2021

Numbers 31:25-32:42

The spoils from the battle with the Midianites were divided between the soldiers and community. Tributes from each portion were given to the Lord. It’s amazing how frequently God gave detailed advice to Moses to help rule the fledgling nation. Not a single Israelite soldier had been lost in the battle (v.49). The commanders of the army were so amazed by this that they donated the gold they had acquired to Moses and Eleazer (the priest) ‘to make atonement’ for themselves (v.50).

The Reubenites and Gadites wanted to stay in the newly conquered territory, Gilead – on the wrong side of the Jordan river, with their livestock and not cross to the promised land. Moses wasn’t impressed with this idea and reminded them about the last forty years wandering in the desert after the spies had discouraged the Israelites from crossing the Jordan. The Reubenites and Gadites negotiated and promised to help the rest of the Israelites conquer the promised land first before they then returned to their wives and children. Before helping, they wanted to ‘build pens here for their livestock and cities for our woman and children (v.16). This sounds like quite a long endeavour but Moses allowed this compromise. They could obviously build cities in less than the time it would take us to get planning permission. However, there were already cities in the area that they had conquered (v.33) and so it was more of a refurbishment / fortification project rather than a completely new build (v.34-38).

Luke 8:40-9:9

Jesus felt power go out of him (v.46) as the woman with the haemorrhage touched him. This lady demonstrated the difference between belief and faith. Many people believed that Jesus could heal people. But this lady’s faith was a blend of belief with action. Her faith told her that if she touched the edge of Jesus’ cloak, she would be healed. Faith often involves the risk of looking foolish if nothing happens. We have to step out and take the risk. If she hadn’t been healed, she would have fought to touch his cloak for no result. God responds to faith, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace’ (v.48).

There is a classic joke that illustrates the difference between belief and faith:

A man falls off a very high cliff. Halfway down, he manages to grab a branch sticking out from the cliff and is left swinging there. He has temporarily saved himself from certain death but needs to be rescued.

He thinks to himself: ‘I believe in God. I will pray to him to rescue me.’

He prays and God immediately responds.

A loud voice comes from heaven, ‘Let go of the branch and I will catch you. Have faith’.

The man responds, ‘Is anyone else there?’

To demonstrate faith, we actually have to step out and do something that could put us at risk. We can’t just sit back expecting God to do all the work for us. We have to participate.

‘For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved’ (Romans 10:10).

Jesus felt something physical when the lady’s healing occurred. When we pray over someone for healing, it is wonderful when we feel something ourselves – perhaps a supernatural sensation of warmth. However, all prayers to God are answered in time and so we don’t actually need a physical manifestation to confirm that some type of healing has or will occur.

Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter. He only took three close disciples and the little girl’s parents into the room with him as witnesses to her resurrection. He had already faced ridicule from the crowd by declaring she was only asleep and so Jesus had publicly ‘put his money where his mouth is’. If the little girl didn’t come back to life, Jesus’ ministry would have been disgraced but he had total faith in the Father and the Holy Spirit and knew the miracle would take place. Jesus gives the command and ‘her spirit returned’ (v.55). Just as Jesus will give the command at the end of time and our spirits will return to our bodies to instantly animate our glorified, resurrected bodies.

Jesus sent out the Twelve on a preaching / healing and deliverance mission (9:2) This would have included Judas. It’s shocking that someone so close to Jesus, trusted with power and authority and successfully carrying miracles in his name could still betray him. It took faith to head out with no bag, spare clothes, money or food. Just being close to Jesus and carrying out his work does not mean we are saved. We have to allow God to place a new faithful heart inside us and accept Jesus fully into our lives as our Lord and Saviour, once we have renounced and repented of our sins

Psalm 40:1-8

God has often ‘lifted me out of the slimy pit’ (v.2). From the slimy pit of unbelief to the slimy pit of unfulfilling secular work, I have been rescued ‘out of the mud and the mire’ (v.2). ‘He set my feet on a rock (Jesus) and gave me a firm place to stand (v.2).

It’s my ambition for many to ‘see and fear and put their trust in the Lord (v.3).

I do have a new song of praise in my mouth (v.3) particularly when I sing in the Spirit.

We can’t trust proud secular leaders puffed up with their own importance, ‘those who turn away to false Gods (v.4). We are blessed by trusting in the Lord.

He doesn’t want sacrifice or offerings from us. Jesus has already given Him the ultimate sacrifice, once and for all. God just wants our love and for us to to ‘desire to do your will’ (v.8). God has written his law within all our hearts, which is why non-believers still do great acts of justice and charity, even though they refuse to acknowledge where their inbuilt social conscience has come from.

God has planned many wonderful things for us to do in this lifetime. We just have to listen to him and then cooperate.

Picture: Eduard Bendemann, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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