Thursday 20th January 2022

MATTHEW 14

Today we have a flashback, a miracle of catering and a pause in the laws of physics. 

The flashback was triggered by King Herod’s comments about Jesus: “It is obviously John the Baptist, risen from the dead doing these miracles” (v2).   Herod wanted to believe this because of the enormous weight of guilt in his heart; he had effectively ordered John’s death, simply because of his uncontrollable lust.  Already he had dissolved his own marriage and married Herodias, his brother’s wife.  Apart from being generally regarded as immoral, this was expressly forbidden by Jewish law (Leviticus 18:16) and John had reprimanded Herod for that.  Perhaps Herodias had insisted on John being imprisoned by her husband, out of spite!  (“Hell hath no fury…”)

Salome, the daughter of Herodias (but not of Herod) performed some kind of sensuous erotic dance that clearly seemed to stir Herod’s baser emotions.  He made a rash promise and was astonished when she asked for John’s severed head on a meat dish.  He had sworn an oath to God, and he had celebrity guests as witnesses too – so Herod had to comply, at the expense of a guilty heart that would go with him to his grave.  Therefore, when he heard about Jesus’ ministry and miracles, he probably expressed his wishful thinking.

Feeding the Five Thousand.  You know the feeling: you have invited a few people for a quiet dinner, and then some gate-crashers arrive uninvited and you are worried about how the catering will stretch.  Now sympathise with the disciples!  Jesus had already planned the answer: it would only need his disciples to give everything they HAD for everyone to be given everything they NEEDED.  God did the rest!

In what way was that a miracle?  Every day, small amounts of wheat (i.e. grains) are transformed into large amounts (i.e. ears of wheat) with the application of time, soil, water and sunshine.  It is called ‘farming’.  No-one even takes any notice of it.  So, what made the Feeding of the Five Thousand a miraculous sign, then?  The point was that it happened instantaneously, by a different process.  And that is what a miracle is: God doing something unusual to draw our attention to himself and to be gracious to us.

Was the walking on the water a suspension of the laws of Physics then?  What ARE the laws of Physics?  They are merely DESCRIPTIONS of causes and effects that NORMALLY occur in our universe (some scientists even consider that there might be other universes with different laws).  They are NOT ‘laws’ that tell us what MUST occur (like the law of the land), but ‘laws’ that summarise what DOES occur – usually.

A miracle is God doing something unusual, differently from our expected norms.  Physics tells us what God NORMALLY does in the way that he operates in his creation; it can say nothing about the unusual ways in which God sometimes acts.  As long as we understand the ‘domain’ and limitations of Physics (and all the sciences), we will not get into some pointless argument about ‘the laws of science being broken’!

Even WE can walk on top of water sometimes – e.g. when it is frozen.  Jesus and Peter just decided to walk on slightly hotter frozen water!  Simple really!

GENESIS 40 and 41

If you don’t want people to think you’re crazy, don’t tell them your dreams!  Carnivorous cows and ears of wheat devouring their neighbours; number sevens everywhere you look!  Such were the dreams Pharaoh had that night and if he had rolled over and blamed it on the Wensleydale from supper, we might never have heard of Joseph at all.  But Middle Eastern culture has always reverenced dreams as direct communication from the gods to predict the future; Pharaoh employed teams of magicians (in rather the same way that governments today use special advisors) to give him the ‘low down’ on dreams and their meanings.  But this last night’s viewing baffled them all. 

Cue an embarrassed Chief Cupbearer (the equivalent of the butler in ‘Upstairs Downstairs’) who recalled how Joseph had accurately interpreted his dream (Genesis 40) and had asked to be mentioned to Pharaoh in return.  (Notice that Joseph was so confident in his interpretations that he didn’t even bother to ask the Chief Baker to remember him afterwards!)  So, the Cupbearer ‘fessed up’ and Joseph was given the fastest makeover that any prisoner has enjoyed in history, before being rushed into Pharaoh’s presence.

A sign of Joseph’s new-found maturity is in his first statement to Pharaoh:  “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (Ch. 41).  When you orientate your gifts and talents towards God’s glory, they will REALLY prosper!  And so will you.  Pharaoh himself senses Joseph’s integrity in addition to his capability, and wisely chooses him to implement the dream’s interpretation.  From prison to power in less than an hour.  “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord” – and when God acts, he does so very quickly (Jeremiah 29:11;  Isaiah 60:22b).  Life changed meteorically for Joseph:  new job, new status, new car, new wife, kids, foreign holidays…  But the reason behind it all was the Lord; what Joseph contributed was patience, faith, and integrity. 

The pattern behind this success was always the same:  1.  The Lord was WITH him (since God has already promised that to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob);  2.  He prospered in his work;  3.  He found favour with his bosses, who promoted him and trusted him with total power and responsibility;  4.  The bosses’ businesses then prospered too.  This happened three times in quick succession.  Since the Lord has blessed us, are we diligent, trustworthy and successful in our work?  Are we recognised as the best and most hard-working employee in our company?  Are we the reason for our boss’s success?  If not, why not?

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