Peter Misselbrook's Blog
25/01/2020 - Luke 11:37-12:7 – Good looking Christians

In the closing verses of Luke 11, Jesus utters a series of woes against the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They like to put on a good outward show of piety while inwardly they are full of corruption. They are hypocrites, play-actors, those who pretend to be something they are not. Jesus challenges them saying, “You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:40). God is not satisfied with an outward show; he sees right into the heart.

Later, Jesus says to his disciples, "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (12:1). This kind of behaviour is catching; it easily infects us.

It is natural for us to imitate the behaviour of others. God made us that way for good reasons; it’s one of the most important ways in which we learn. We imitate others from our earliest years. A baby learns to clap by watching us and imitating our clapping. Young children learn to speak by imitating the sounds we make. Later, our children learn to pray by hearing us pray. Behaviour is easily imitated. But as we grow up we can continue to behave in the way that is expected of us even when our heart is no longer in it. Our behaviour then becomes pretence. We can carry on attending church and even singing along with others long after we have ceased to worship.

There is an element of the hypocrite in all of us: we want to present our best face to those around us; there are things going on in our hearts and minds that we keep well-hidden and are glad that no-one else can see. We fear the moment when the mask may slip and we betray what we are truly like.

A while ago, Jimmy Savile was much in the news. His public face as a light hearted TV personality, eager to raise money for charity and to fix up opportunities for children had been shown up to be just that – a public face. Underneath there was a dark side of abuse and devotion to satisfying his own desires. His life turned out to be a sham. It has been a terrible illustration of Jesus’ words, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (12:2-3).

It’s good to go through the actions of Bible reading, prayer and church attendance, but outward conformity is not enough. God looks for more than imitated behaviour; he looks at the heart.

The Christian life begins with the knowledge that nothing is hidden from God; he knows us fully and intimately. We need not and cannot pretend with him. He loves and accepts us as we are; but he does not intend to leave us as we are. He cares about us too much for that; “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God… Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (12:6-7). His purpose is to transform us from the inside out; to give us a heart which is the reflection of his own heart. He who made the outside made the inside also. He does not want us simply to look the part; he wants us to be the people he created us to be.

Lord Jesus, I cannot act the part before you. You see right through me and know me as I really am. Show me my own heart and make me aware of those places where sin still skulks around within. Help me to root out all those things that displease you. Through your shed blood and risen power, make me clean from the inside. May my life shine with the beauty of your living presence for the glory of your name and the blessing of those whose lives I touch.

24/01/2020 - Luke 11:14-36 – The sign of Jonah

Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man who had been mute, giving him the power to speak. The crowds were amazed at what he had done, but some began to speculate that he was able to cast out demons because he possessed superior demonic power. Nevertheless, the crowds were eager to see Jesus do more that would amaze them. Perhaps with more signs they might revise their opinion of him.

Jesus tells them, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation..." (Luke 11:29-30).

In what way was Jonah a sign to the Ninevites? Jonah had been a rebel against God. God had given him a clear command, "Go to Niveveh...", and he had fled in the opposite direction. His rebellion had nearly cost him his life. He had been thrown into the sea and would have drowned had God not prepared a great fish which swallowed up Jonah and three days later spat him out on the sea shore. It's a remarkable story and the experience must have left its mark on Jonah. Certainly it persuaded him to walk the 500 miles to Nineveh to preach God's message to its inhabitants.

And don't you think they may have asked him why he had come? And he would have told them of his experience. Perhaps it was this experience of Jonah as much as his words "Repent or perish" that persuaded the Ninevites to turn to God. They had a sign in Jonah of the awful reality of the judgment that falls on those who rebel against God; but they also had evidence of God's remarkable saving mercy – "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs... Salvation comes from the Lord" (Jonah 2:8-9). If God could rescue Jonah using a great fish, maybe he would have mercy on them if they would only turn to him. Never underestimate the power of personal testimony.

Jesus tells the crowd that he is the sign that ought to bring this generation to repentance; he is for them the sign of Jonah. Elsewhere we read that Jesus likens Jonah's three days in the sea and the fish to the three days he will spend in the tomb. His death and resurrection is the sign that should bring this generation – our generation – to repentance. Here is evidence of the reality of God's judgment against sin and rebellion – he did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Here also is the evidence of God's saving grace – he did not leave him to suffer corruption but raised him to new life for our sake. Judgment is not some tale made up to frighten us into conformity; it is an awful reality which has been made plain in the middle of history in the cross of Jesus. But neither is grace some vague hope; it is grounded in Jesus' resurrection from the dead:

Jesus our Lord … was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification... Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! (Romans 4:24-25; 5:9).

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the sign of Jonah. We give you thanks that our Lord Jesus suffered for us a cruel death on the cross, bearing the punishment for our sins. But, most of all, we praise you that he is risen – raised for our justification. He is more than a sign; he is our hope and our Redeemer. Strengthen our faith that we may never turn from him who is our life; keep us trusting him, following him and glorying in him. And may our testimony draw many others to him.

23/01/2020 - Luke 10:38-11:13 – Martha and Mary

What do you make of the story of Martha and Mary? I suspect you may even find the wording of my question slightly odd; we are more used to speaking of "Mary and Martha". But it's Martha who appears first in the story. It appears to be her house that Jesus is in and she is intent upon honouring him as her guest. Everything she is doing is intended as an act of service for Jesus, while her sister sits idly at Jesus' feet. Isn't it rather unfair that she is told off because of her way of expressing her devotion to Jesus?

I have a friend who tends to read the story in this way. He is a task-oriented person; always keen to be active in the work of the kingdom. He gets frustrated with those who present themselves as wonderfully spiritual but who do very little – like those who constantly leave others to clear away the chairs after a church service while they stand chatting with others.

Then there are those who ask the question, "Are you a Mary or a Martha?" – as if it's a matter of temperament. This would seem to suggest that one might be commended or condemned on the basis of one's inherent character – God loves contemplatives but hates activists!

We need to remember that whoever we are, and whatever may be our temperament, we are each called to follow Jesus. There is nothing spiritual about spending one's life in perpetual contemplation while refusing to get one's hands dirty with the common work of the world. Jesus did not choose to stay in heaven, sitting (as it were) at the feet of the Father and gazing upon his glory. Jesus came into this world to live the life of a servant and to give his life for our salvation. But equally there are dangers in the business of service. We can become so preoccupied with the work that must be done, that we lose sight of those whom we are serving – whether the Lord himself or other people. At such times the work becomes a heavy duty rather than a joy.

It's not a matter of temperament; it's a matter of the heart – of living closely with Jesus, following in his footsteps and of doing all that we do gladly to the glory of God and in service of others. And it's about balance. We need to follow Jesus who sought time apart with the Father but also gave himself gladly to the service of others. Was he a Mary or a Martha? ... a contemplative or an activist? He is God incarnate and the model for all he calls us to be.

And one more thing: what is really remarkable about this story is that Mary – a woman – has assumed the position of a disciple, sitting at the Master's feet and listening to his teaching. In an age where a woman's "place" was in the kitchen, she broke the mould and joined the men. And Jesus commends her for it rather than packing her off to the household duties. He is delighted that women and men equally seek to learn of him and follow him. And Luke is pleased to bear testimony to this radical breaking of the rabbinic traditions.

The disciples had been busy in the work of the kingdom and had seen remarkable things happen as a result of their ministry but, when they saw Jesus at prayer, they asked him to teach them to pray, and that’s just what he did. They needed to learn to be still in the presence of God if they were going to continue being useful in his service. And so do we.

We need Jesus to teach us to pray – and we need to learn from those who have been taught by him. It’s good to repeat the words of the Lord’s Prayer and to use other written prayers which we make our own by joining our hearts with the words. These can be valuable learning aids. But it’s also good to pray in our own words, pouring out our hearts to God and bringing all our cares and concerns before him with thanksgiving and praise. It’s good to knock on heaven’s door in the confidence that, “Everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10).

Lord Jesus, teach me to pray – and to wait and to listen. And through such prayer, empower me for service that your kingdom may come and your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.

22/01/2020 - Luke 10:13-37 – Compassion

It is difficult to choose which verse or theme to comment on this morning – so I shall take two.

When the 70/72 return from their mission, they are full of excitement at what they have accomplished saying, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name" (Luke 10:17). Jesus reflects their excitement when he affirms that they have been instrumental in defeating Satan's stranglehold on God's world and unseating him from his position of power. When Jesus says, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (10:18) I believe that he is saying that their ministry anticipates the day when he will be utterly unseated and destroyed. Similarly, when Jesus adds, "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy" (10:19) he is surely echoing the promise of Genesis 3:15 – the promise that the ancient Deceiver will be crushed.

These are heady words and must have added to the disciples' excitement – they were now in the business of destroying Satan's kingdom. But Jesus then adds, "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (10:20). Jesus knows that there will be days when demons do not seem to flee before them; days when opposition may grow rather than be crushed; days when they will face persecution and even death. But there are some things that can never change and can never be taken away from them. They are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and he has guaranteed them a place with him in his glorious kingdom. It is this hope that must sustain them – and us – in the difficult days, as well as in the days when Satan seems to flee before us. It is this that must be our joy.

But secondly, I cannot pass over the parable of "The Good Samaritan" without comment. Jesus is responding to one of the Jewish legal experts who asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. The man knows that he is to love God and to love his neighbour, but he wants a clearer definition of his neighbour – he does not want to squander his love on the wrong person. Jesus tells the parable of a man (ethnic origin unknown) who is set upon by robbers and left for dead on the Jericho road. A priest going along the road passes by on the other side; so also does a Levite. A Samaritan passing by sees the man and has compassion on him. He takes him to an inn where he looks after him and ensures his recovery. This man demonstrates what it means to be a neighbour – and demonstrates the character and conduct Jesus calls us to display when he concludes, "Go and do likewise" (10:37).

The difference between the travellers on the Jericho road is that the priest and the Levite were concerned primarily for themselves. The Samaritan, however, had compassion on the man left naked, beaten and half dead (I do think "compassion" is a far better word than "pity"). He was deeply moved with concern for the man (just as we read that Jesus was moved with compassion for the crowds). It was a compassion that moved him to act and to rescue the man at his own trouble and expense.

Jesus calls us to follow him. He calls us to have a heart of compassion for those in need; a heart that reflects the compassion that brought him from glory to seek and to save the lost. He calls us to be more concerned about others than we are for ourselves. It's all too easy to suffer compassion fatigue and to return to self-preoccupation or even self-pity. We need our compassion to be continually renewed through knowing and living closely with the one who gave himself for us.

Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Lord Jesus, teach me what it means to follow you; and help me to follow truly, closely, constantly and joyfully.

21/01/2020 - Luke 9:51-10:12 – A paradoxical contrast

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will face betrayal and death. He has “set his face towards Jerusalem”; he is determined that nothing will turn him aside from the task that the Father has sent him to accomplish. He is determined to go to the cross for us.

As he and his followers passed through Samaria, messengers were sent on ahead to prepare a place for them to stay the night. One Samaritan village refused hospitality to the party because Jesus was travelling to Jerusalem. James and John asked if the Lord would like them to call down fire from heaven on the village. Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:55) and led them on to another village.

The arrogance and presumption of James and John is breath-taking. Firstly they display a vengeful spirit that seems so contrary to that of their Master – a spirit that prompts Jesus' rebuke and earns them the nickname Boanerges (thunder boys). Secondly, they assumed that they had the ability to call down fire from heaven. Who did they imagine had given them that skill? I am reminded of the conversation between Glendower and Hotspur in Shakespeare's Henry the Fourth:

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?

This incident is followed by Jesus' words of instruction to the 72 whom he is sending out to proclaim the kingdom of God in the surrounding area. He tells them that if any town refuses to welcome them, they are to, "go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.'" (10:11). Then Jesus adds, "I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town" (10:12). Fire fell from heaven on Sodom for its gross failure of hospitality towards the messengers of God. The fate of the inhabitants of the town that rejects the messengers of Jesus will be no better.

You can, of course, decide to reject these final words of Jesus to the departing 72, deciding that they are out of character and an addition by a scribe of the same spirit as James and John. But then, surely, you also become arrogant and presumptuous in deciding what parts of the Gospel accounts depict a Jesus that conforms to your own expectations. Humble hermeneutics requires that we seek to understand what we are given; it will not allow us to rewrite the text.

Jesus' refusal to permit James and John to call down fire from heaven is not because his character is one of perfect love that precludes all judgment. He rebukes them because they have failed to understand what the time is; now is the day of salvation and the door to life must continue to remain open. Nevertheless, the Day of Judgment will come. We need to understand both of these things; we need our lives and testimony to be shaped by both of these realities if we are to have the mind of Christ.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you set your face to go to Jerusalem and to endure a cruel death upon the cross for us. Thank you that you were ready to suffer rejection, not just by Samaritan villagers, but also by Jewish leaders and Roman authorities – by us. You humbled yourself that we might inherit glory. Keep me, Lord Jesus, from an arrogant and presumptuous spirit. May I seek always to be a blessing to those around me. Keep me from cursing those whose conduct I find disappointing, hurtful or unkind; rather, help me to pray for them that they too may find forgiveness and healing through your sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.

20/01/2020 - Luke 9:28-50 – A new exodus

Jesus took Peter, James and John with him up a mountain where he spent time in prayer. As he prayed, his appearance changed and his clothing shone as brightly as a flash of lightning. The disciples saw two men talking with Jesus whom, somehow, they realised were Moses and Elijah. Luke records that they were speaking with Jesus about his "exodus" that he was "about to bring to fulfilment in Jerusalem" (Luke 9:31).

My use of the term "exodus" here is simply a transliteration of the Greek work used by Luke – a word often translated as "departure". But I can't help thinking that Luke chooses this word as a deliberate echo of the central theme of the second book in the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses had been used of God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He had been the leader of their exodus. The prophets had spoken of the way in which Israel's unfaithfulness would lead to a new captivity and would require another exodus. Now Moses and Elijah are speaking with Jesus about the greater exodus that he is about to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Jesus' death and resurrection will be the means by which he will lead his people out of captivity and into the freedom of his kingdom; a kingdom in which they will be freed to serve God. On the night that Jesus was betrayed he celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples. Through that meal they remembered how God had rescued the children of Israel from Egypt.

On that first Passover night the Israelites had taken a lamb and killed it. The blood was painted around the doorway into their houses and they remained in the house that night eating lamb and flat bread. During that night, God had come down in judgment and the firstborn son in every house in Egypt had been struck dead. The blood had protected the Israelites; when God saw the blood on the doorway he passed over their homes and they were safe. The Israelites had been saved by the blood of the lamb. There was a death in every house in Egypt that night; in the Egyptian houses the death of the firstborn; in the Israelite houses the death of a lamb.

And so the Israelites were expelled from Egypt. They were set free. They achieved their exodus.

At that Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus took the elements of the Passover meal, the bread and the wine, and he applied them to himself and to his death which was only hours away. Christ our Passover was about to be sacrificed and because of his death and resurrection God’s judgment has passed over us and we are saved. We have been set free and he is leading us out of all that has held us captive to the place he has prepared for us. He has accomplished our exodus.

And he calls us to remember continually what he has done for us. He took bread and wine from the Passover meal to act as reminders of his death because they formed the staple diet of the first century disciples. They were to remember daily what Jesus had done for them. They were to celebrate together their freedom in Christ and proclaim his dying love and risen power to all.

Lord Jesus, thank you that your death and resurrection brings freedom. Help me to follow you as you lead me by your Spirit through the wilderness of this present world. Keep me from the desire to turn back to the secure captivity from which you have set me free. Help me daily to remember what you have done for me and to declare your praises, for you have called me out of the kingdom of darkness into your wonderful light.

19/01/2020 - Luke 9:7-27 – Who is this man?

The feeding of the five thousand is one of the best-known miracles of Jesus. In Luke's gospel it is sandwiched between two sections concerning the identity of Jesus. In the verses immediately preceding this miracle, Luke records Herod's puzzlement as he hears news of what Jesus is doing. Some are saying that this must be John raised from the dead, others that Elijah has appeared and others that another of the ancient prophets has been raised back to life. Herod is perplexed. He knows that he had John beheaded; who then is this man? (Luke 9:9)

Immediately after the feeding of the five thousand, Luke records a private conversation between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus asks them, "Who do the crowds say I am?" (9:18). The same list is repeated: "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life." Jesus then asks them what they think, prompting Peter's reply that Jesus is the Messiah (9:20). He is the Christ of God, the one through whom God will establish his kingdom in the earth.

The miraculous feeding of the five thousand is evidently seen by Luke as vital evidence, demonstrating who Jesus truly is. He is the prophet Moses promised that God would raise up in his place – the one who has succeeded him in feeding God’s people in desert places. But Jesus is far greater than Moses, for the food he provides comes from his own hand rather than dropping from heaven. Through Elijah, God had provided food for the widow of Zarephath and her son, but Jesus provides food for thousands; for all who come to him. He is greater than John who preached and baptised in the desert preparing people for the one who was to come. Jesus is the one who was to come. He is the promised Messiah, the one who will save, lead and provide for his people.

But following Jesus is not a perpetual picnic. Jesus warns that he is on his way to the cross and adds, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Jesus wants us to be clear not only about his identity but also concerning the character of Christian discipleship. It is not enough to know who Jesus is; we are to act upon that knowledge. It is not enough to confess that he is the Christ; we must live in submission to him as glad citizens of his kingdom. The cross-shaped pattern of our lives is to make the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ visible to those around us.

Jesus has a habit of expressing these things in the starkest of terms: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (9:26); “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (9:27). Jesus leaves no room for us to hide behind platitudes and excuses. He calls for willing, wholehearted and joyful discipleship.

Lord Jesus, help me to understand more of who you are and what you have done for me that I may be filled with joy and peace in believing. Help me also to understand what it means to follow you and to follow gladly rather than turning back or dragging my feet. Keep me from half-hearted discipleship and help me never to be ashamed of you but to speak often of you and, by my actions also, make your kingdom visible in all its beauty and glory.

18/01/2020 - Luke 8:40-9:6 – Inexhaustible power

Jesus was on his way to the house of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, to heal his daughter who was dying. Crowds surrounded Jesus and swarmed along with him. Among the crowd was a woman who had suffered with bleeding for twelve years. She had spent all that she had on doctors but none had been able to heal her. She remained "unclean" and unable to participate fully in society. She worked her way through the crowd until she was immediately behind Jesus. Then she touched the edge of his robe, and instantly she was healed. Jesus felt the power go out of him to heal this woman and asked, "Who touched me?" (Luke 8:45). The woman fell at Jesus' feet and told him her story. Jesus told her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace" (8:48). She can go in peace; untroubled by the guilt of having done some secret thing. She can go enjoying Shalom – wholeness within herself, with her society and with God.

Imagine the change in the life of this woman – the things she was now able to do that she could not do before; the places she was now able to go where she had not been able to go before. She would have experienced a wonderful sense of freedom – of new life. And imagine the difference it made also to those who knew her. They needed no longer to fear that contact with her would make them unclean. They could visit her and talk with her and share in the freedom that she had come to enjoy. Just a touch of the hem of Jesus' garment had done for her what all the skill of others and all her own resources could not accomplish; it had made her whole.

Faith is the hand that simply reaches out to touch the Saviour. Faith believes that he can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and that no-one else can do for us; he can make us whole; he can make us again the people we were created to be; he is our Shalom – our peace.

And what I also find wonderful about this passage is that although Jesus felt power go out of him, there is no diminishing of the power left within him. When messengers come from Jairus’ house to tell him that his daughter has died, Jesus did not apologise that his power had left him and he can do nothing. He entered the ruler’s house and, with a word of command, raised the girl from the dead. Nor is this a power he feels that he must keep to himself for fear that sharing it might dilute it. Immediately after this incident, Luke records that Jesus gave power to his disciples that they might heal the sick and push back the boundaries of the kingdom of darkness.

Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told his disciples that he possessed “all power in heaven and in earth”. There is no limit to his power. And because he possesses all power, he commands his disciples to bring the whole world under his authority – to make disciples of all nations. It’s a daunting task that seems quite beyond our power. And so it is. But it’s not beyond his power. And the hand that touches his robe draws on his inexhaustible power.

Lord Jesus Christ, I am glad that you possess all power in heaven and on earth. Power could not be in better hands. Help me Lord to stay close to you that I may know your power at work in my own life. Remove all that is unclean within me and give me the freedom that comes from a life made whole and new. Enable me also so to serve you in the power of your Spirit that the lives of those around me might be drawn into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Peter Misselbrook