Peter Misselbrook's Blog
11/08/2020 - Mark 16:1-20 – He has risen

The angel told the women who had come to the tomb, "Don’t be alarmed... You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him" (Mark 16:6). With these simple words the resurrection is announced on that first Easter morning. Jesus had rested in the tomb on the Sabbath day, but now it is the first day of a new week – of a new world. It is resurrection morning, the dawn of a new creation.

Some of the earliest manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel end with verse 8. Other manuscripts include a number of variant additional endings to the Gospel. The traditional verses 9-20 seem to be a later collation from other Gospels and from various events recorded in the book of Acts. All of this makes for confusing evidence. It is difficult to know whether Mark actually ended his Gospel with verse 8, and scribes sought to provide what they felt was a better ending, or whether the additional words he originally wrote have been lost. Whichever may be the case, all that we now have of Mark’s own account appears to stop at verse 8.

And so we have a puzzling conclusion: "Don't be alarmed" says the angel. However, Mark’s account concludes with the women fleeing the tomb, trembling and bewildered and unable to tell anyone what they had seen and heard.

But Mark's readers know that this is not the end of the story for they are the continuation of the story. They are those to whom this message has now come. The challenge now for them is how this story will continue to be played out in their lives?

And now this same unfinished story challenges us. Christ is risen from the dead; how shall we live in the light of this new creation? Are we going to remain trembling, bewildered and silent? Or are we going to show and tell the reality of Christ crucified and risen from the dead?

Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you (Ephesians 5:14).

A few years ago I attended an Easter service at which wristbands were passed out with the single word “Risen!” emblazoned upon them. I have worn mine ever since that day. It continually reminds me not only that Christ is risen from the dead but that I too am raised with him. By the power of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, I am to live the life of the new creation – the life of the age to come. Every part and aspect of my life is to be affected by the resurrection of Christ. Nothing can ever be the same again.

A well-known Christian song has the words, “He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today… You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.” That response is wholly inadequate. The world is to know that Christ lives – that he is risen – not merely by some mystical inner experience but by the manifest reality of resurrection life in the people who bear his name. We are to make the resurrection of Christ visible and incontrovertible.

Heavenly Father, I gladly confess that Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. Teach me more of what this truly means. Spirit of Christ, translate this confession into the very fabric of my daily life. Help me to die daily to the self-centred life that called for your death. By your living presence and power, enable me to live the self-giving life of the kingdom that shows the world that you are risen indeed. In this way may I live daily in joyful anticipation and living hope of the day of your coming.

10/08/2020 - Mark 15:1-47 – And the crucified him

The bluntness and brevity of Mark's phrase, "And they crucified him" (Mark 15:24), hits like the blow of hammer upon nail. The whole of this cruel and unjust act is summed up in just three words. This act which shakes the foundations of the cosmos and brings darkness at noon, which rends the curtain in the temple and reconciles humankind with God, all of this is described with a few strokes of a pen; "they crucified him". So very much is contained in so very few words.

Of course, there are many who have attempted to explain the meaning of Jesus’ death. Here are just a few of the many theories:

The Moral Influence Theory. By being willing to go to the cross, Jesus shows how much he loves us. His love should move us to love him in return. Such love will be characterised by obedience to his commandments and following Jesus in selfless service of others. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” John 14:28.

Christus Victor. The cross is the battleground between Christ and Satan; between God and the powers of darkness. It seems that the powers of darkness – human wickedness, injustice and corrupt political and religious powers – have won the day when Jesus is put to death. But by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus breaks their power and demonstrates that he is victor or conqueror. Justice and righteousness have the last word. By his risen power Jesus gives us victory over the powers of darkness – we also are more than conquerors. “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15).

Penal Substitution. God had declared that sin leads to death – “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23). At the cross, Jesus suffered the penalty that we deserve. He suffered and died for us – as our substitute. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The justice of God has been satisfied and our slate is wiped clean. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).

New Creation. When God’s good creation rebelled against him, he warned that it would end in death. We live in a dying world. Jesus, in identifying himself fully with fallen humankind and a fallen creation, endures death – its death. His death is the end of that fallen creation and his resurrection is the beginning (or firstfruits) of the new creation. Those who come to trust in him have passed from death to life – judgment day occurred for them at the cross. They share in Jesus resurrection life and belong already to the new creation that will be fully manifest when Jesus returns and all things are made new.

All of our theories are imperfect attempts to get our minds around the cosmic significance of what was happening at the cross. As Jim Packer once remarked, such theories are often right in what they affirm but wrong in what they deny. They are partial pictures, each capturing one facet of something that defies our complete comprehension. It will take all of eternity for us to fathom the depths of what took place on that hillside.

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain –
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Heavenly Father, I am filled with wonder when I read that you so loved the world that you gave us your one and only Son. Lord Jesus, I am amazed that you should have loved me and given yourself for me. Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, I am filled with humble gratitude that you have come to me and given me a share in his resurrection life. Help me to bring the life of Christ to a dying world, even if that means sharing now in Christ’s sufferings.

09/08/2020 - Mark 14:53-72 – Destroy this temple ...

Jesus has been brought for trial before the Jewish leaders. But even though some have been persuaded to concoct accusations against him, their testimony does not agree. In the end, Jesus' own words are used to condemn him.

One of the accusations against Jesus, recorded by Mark, was that he had said, "I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands" (Mark 14:58). He is accused of threatening to destroy the temple – the most holy of places to Judaism. But this false accusation was a garbled version of what Jesus had said when he had cleansed the temple and had been asked for a sign to demonstrate his authority to do such things; Jesus had replied, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days" (John 2:19).

Jesus was speaking not of the building in Jerusalem but of his own body. He is the temple of God. He is the "place" in which the living God has come to live among us. He is the place where that final atoning sacrifice is made for sin. He is the place of reconciliation with God. He is the one in whom we are able to offer acceptable worship to God. And he is all of this because this temple was destroyed and raised again in three days.

Jesus and his atoning sacrifice sweep away all of the signs and shadows of the Old Testament. He is the fulfilment of all that has gone before, the focus of all God’s purposes for his world. How sad that these Jewish leaders wanted to cling onto the sign while seeking to destroy the one to whom it pointed. How sad that some Christians seem to get excited about the prospects of the temple in Jerusalem being rebuilt – as if Christ had not died and been raised from the dead.

Through Jesus, we also become the temple of the living God: "You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honour. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God" (1 Peter 2:4-5). We who have come to trust in Jesus are the new temple that Jesus is raising up.

Because of Jesus, the dwelling place of God is not a temple of stone, or a church building or any other human construction. It is a people among whom God lives by his Spirit; a people who know that the risen Lord Jesus is with them. And we have been entrusted with the priestly task of interceding with God on behalf of his world, calling down God’s blessing upon the world and bringing the world to God. We have become the people through whom the world meets the living God!

At the beginning of the previous chapter we read that as the disciples came out of the temple, one of them said to Jesus, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mk 13:1). They were filled with wonder at the splendour of the temple. What do people say when they look at the shared lives of Christians? Do they see the glory of God’s presence among us?

Living God, the heaven of heavens cannot contain you, much less any house which we can make. And yet, in your condescension, you came to dwell among us in the man, Christ Jesus. How much more wonderful that you, the triune God, have stooped to live among us in the power of the risen Saviour and the person of your Spirit. May your glory be seen in this temple and may the world come to meet you through the witness of your holy people.

08/08/2020 - Mark 14:22-52 – The flesh is weak

Jesus knew that he was soon to be arrested, tried and put to death. Taking Peter, James and John with him into the garden of Gethsemane, he poured out his heart in prayer. He had wanted these three disciples to be his companions in his agony and prayer, but they fell asleep. Jesus' words to them are full of sad accusation, "Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:37-38).

The disciples were beginning to learn more about themselves. Soon they would run off and desert Jesus when he is taken captive. Before the night is out, Peter will deny that he ever knew his Lord. The flesh is weak.

And we are no different. We are full of good intentions and grand plans, but we all too often fail to live up to our words. Many years ago now, I was in Christian ministry as pastor of a church. I had, I believed, a clear vision of what a church should be and a longing to develop a community of the people of God where we would disciple one another and grow up into Christ. The stress of the work and a breakdown in my health led to me resigning from the pastorate. It was a devastating experience for me from which, more than 30 years later, I am still seeking to learn lessons. Above all, I was made painfully aware of my own weakness and the brokenness of all God’s people.

Such experiences underline the need for us to watch and pray, not just that we do not fall into temptation but also that we may have the strength to serve Christ as we should. We need to know ourselves and to be aware of own weakness and the frailty of others around us. But we need also to be fully confident that God's power is able to work in and through our weakness. As the Lord said to Paul, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." And Paul responded, "I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul's testimony is therefore, "I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). We need to watch and pray: watch for the dangers we face, fully aware that we are weak; pray in the knowledge that we have one who is able to help us.

I am writing this during Lent, a time of preparation leading up to Easter. It's a time to reflect on our own weakness, but also upon the power and grace of God shown us in the Lord Jesus Christ – resurrection power; the power of life in the face of death. But the need to watch and pray will outlast Lent; it will last as long as we remain in our current weakness; it will only cease when we are finally transformed by God's power into the likeness of our risen Lord.

Lord Jesus, help me each day to watch and pray knowing that you are with me and that you pray with me and for me and never fall asleep. Keep me from the self-confidence that would boast that I will never let you down. Teach me the grace of humble dependence. Living God, by your Spirit equip me with everything good that I may do your will, working in me what is pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. And when I do fail, as I surely will, forgive me and restore me as you restored Peter of old, and then use me again for your glory.

07/08/2020 - Mark 14:1-21 – What she has done will be told in memory of her

We read that while he was in Bethany, Jesus was having a meal in the home of Simon the leper. We would like to know more about this man. Was he someone whom Jesus had healed of leprosy who had invited Jesus and his disciples to eat with him as a means of expressing his thanks? We don’t know. What we do know is that during their meal a woman entered with an alabaster jar full of expensive ointment and poured it over Jesus' head. We read that many were angry with the woman; they thought her extravagant action a waste of money that could have been better used to help the poor. Jesus rebuked them; "Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me" (Mark 14:6).

Jesus is not disagreeing with their expressions of concern for the poor, for he adds, "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want" (14:7). Maybe he is rebuking an outward expression of concern which had failed to be matched by any sacrificial actions on their part. It's all too easy to criticise others and to pass judgment on what they should have done; much more difficult for us to live up to our own ideals. Whatever the case, Jesus commends the beautiful act of this woman, saying, "She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial" (14:8). Again, this may be an implied criticism of her critics; she has actually done something. More than that, she has anticipated Jesus death and prepared him for burial. I wonder whether those reclining at Simon's table understood the significance of Jesus words.

Jesus concludes by saying, "Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her" (14:9). His words are fulfilled through the record of this woman's devotion in the pages of Scripture. And yet her name is not recorded. We do not know who she was, nor do we know what had moved her to this act of devotion. Nor are these details important; it is her act of devotion that is recorded so that we might learn from it.

We need to watch our own tendency to criticise others – even to criticise the things they do out of devotion to Christ. It's all too easy to become a professional critic, loudly declaring what others should have done as a means of covering up our own failure to do what we can.

John tells us that one of the chief critics of this woman was Judas Iscariot. He protested, John says, not because he cared for the poor but because he was in charge of the disciples’ moneybag; he loved money and would dip his hand into the bag (John 12:4-6). This incident seems to have been one of the triggers that prompted him to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Since this ointment was not sold and the money placed in his bag, he would find other ways to get his hands on some silver. What a contrast between this woman’s costly act of devotion and Judas’ self-seeking act of betrayal.

Living God, you did not spare your own Son, but gave him up for us and you promise with him to freely give us all things. Even the poor in your kingdom are rich. Keep me from the self-centredness which so often displays itself in a critical spirit – always finding fault with others. Lord Jesus, you devoted yourself to my salvation, help me to devote myself to your service. By your Spirit, enable me today to do what I can to help others and to encourage them also in their devotion to you.

06/08/2020 - Mark 13:14-37 – My words will never pass away

In the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded by Matthew, Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matthew 5:17-18). In this, Jesus echoes the words of Isaiah, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands for ever" (Isaiah 40:6-8). God does not change his mind. He never has to come up with a Plan B. What he has purposed and promised in his word will come to pass. You can bet your life upon it.

But in the passage we have been reading today, Jesus says the same thing concerning his own words! Jesus says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Mark 13:31). He gives the same weight and certainty to his own words as he gives to the words spoken by God. No wonder Jesus angered the Jewish leaders. They accused him of blasphemy because he, a man, made himself equal with God. They were right in their accusation – except in the suggestion that such a claim involved blasphemy on Jesus' part. Jesus is the one in whom all that was spoken beforehand finds its fulfilment. He is the word incarnate. He is the one through whom God will establish his kingdom – through whom his word and promise are becoming flesh.

C S Lewis wrote concerning Jesus, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman, or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (Mere Christianity). 

How do you respond to the words of Jesus?

And more than that, how do we present the claims of Jesus to others? Jesus will not allow those who hear him to sit on the fence; they must either own him as Lord or reject him. Do we present the claims of Christ with a clarity and force which provokes and demands a response – or are we perhaps afraid that we also might suffer rejection if we do? The hope of Christ’s coming should prompt us to be always active in the Master’s business; always about the work of the kingdom.

Lord Jesus, I am amazed at your teaching, and especially at all that you said about yourself; “No-one else ever spoke like this.” Give me ears to hear what you are saying and an eagerness to pass on all that you have taught me. Through the power and presence of your Spirit within me, may others come to hear your voice through my stumbling words. May they come to see who you are and to own you as Saviour, Messiah and Lord.

05/08/2020 - Mark 12:38-13:13 – She … put in everything

The Jewish leaders have now given up trying to trap Jesus in his own words. The last one to try went away acknowledging that Jesus had answered wisely and well.

But Jesus has not finished with his comments on the Jewish leaders. Speaking to the crowd who had gathered around him in the Temple courts, Jesus tells them to beware of the spirit that dominates these leaders. They love to parade around in their long robes, to be recognised, greeted and treated with honour. Many of them are devoted to a proud outward show of piety rather than the cultivation of a humble, contrite heart.

Jesus and his disciples were now sitting opposite the spot where people were putting their gifts into the Temple treasury box. Many who were well off made a show of throwing a large amount of money into the box. A poor widow then put in two small copper coins. Her gift seemed insignificant compared to the riches others had given and probably went entirely unnoticed by most of those in the Temple. But it did not go unnoticed by Jesus. He pointed her out to his disciples and said that she had given more than all the rest. “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44).

As I read these words, I could not help thinking that Jesus was just days from his death. Jesus came into this world not just to share some of the excess of his riches with those in need. He came not in a proud show of glory, looking for recognition and admiration. He humbled himself and gave everything for us; he laid down his life for us. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). And Jesus calls us to follow him; to devote all we are and have to the service of our God and for the blessing of others. It’s a big call.

Do you recall the time when David had taken a census of the Israelites. It was an act of pride that angered the Lord and brought a plague that resulted in the deaths of 70,000 people. David wanted to build an altar and seek God’s forgiveness and plead that the plague might stop. He asks to buy the threshing floor of Araunah as a place to build an altar and make his sacrifice. Araunah offers to give the king his threshing floor and oxen for a burnt offering and their wooden yokes and threshing sledges as fuel for the offering. But David will not accept them as a gift. He tells Araunah, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). David recognises that the Lord calls for costly worship – for whole-life obedience and service.

I am aware that all too often I am like the rich who threw their gold or silver into the treasury. It’s easy to feel that we have given a great deal to the cause of the kingdom when what we have given has cost us little; we have given what we can spare; we have given what we do not really miss. It’s easy to make a show of following Jesus.

Lord Jesus, keep me from making a show of discipleship. You have given yourself for my redemption; help me to follow you in giving all I have for the furtherance of your kingdom and the glory of your name. Help me to be open-handed in my service of you, recognising that I have nothing which has not first been given to me. Keep me from cheap devotion.

04/08/2020 - Mark 12:18-37 – When the dead rise

The Jewish leaders are intent on finding a way to condemn Jesus. They decide that they will try to trap him with his own words. First of all the Pharisees and Herodians have a go. They tried to trick him with a question about paying taxes to Caesar. It’s a question designed either to lose him credibility among the crowds who hate the Roman occupation of their land, or to get him into fatal trouble with the Roman authorities. But Jesus sees through their flattery and deceit; he produces a response which is as memorable as it is full of wisdom. His answer silences his questioners and rescues him from condemnation by the crowd and by Rome.

Now it is the turn of the Sadducees to try their hand at tripping him up. They tell Jesus a story about seven brothers who, each in turn, have the same woman as their wife. “At the resurrection whose wife will she be?” they ask him (Mark 12:22). The Sadducees did not believe in any form of afterlife and, in their arrogance, they believe their story shows that any notion of life beyond this world is absurd and that those who believe such things are simply naive.

But Jesus is not to be confounded by their fables. He replies, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven…” (12:24-25).

Jesus rebukes the ignorance of the Sadducees, but his reply leaves us (or at least me), with so many more questions. I understand that there will be no more need for reproduction in the resurrection – there will be people enough in the life to come. But will we no longer have a special relationship with those who have been our family here below? My dad who died a few years ago was looking forward to being reunited with my mum who had died three years earlier. Does Jesus’ answer suggest that such desires are misplaced sentimentality? In the resurrection, will the one who is currently my wife mean no more to me then than the next woman? And in what sense will we be like the angels? I find this very confusing.

I can hazard a guess at an answer to some of these questions. I might suggest that my wife will mean no less to me in the resurrection than she does now but that others will mean far more in that day – that we shall truly be conscious of being one family through the Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, many questions remain – particularly on us being like the angels! I’m sure that it does not mean that we shall be dressed in white, have wings and play harps!

It is salutary to realise that some or our questions just have to remain unresolved for the present. It was said of Jesus during his earthly ministry that he did all things well. We can trust him to do the same for the age to come. We cannot fully imagine what it will be like – how shall the wolf lie down with the lamb and the leopard with a young kid? I’m sure that there are going to be plenty of surprises and delights in the age of resurrection. But of one thing I’m also absolutely sure, there will be no disappointments.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you have given me a living hope through your resurrection from the dead. I know that death is not the end and that I will share in your resurrection life. I can only begin to understand what this means, but I do know that it will be unutterable glory. I gladly trust you for all that’s to come.

Peter Misselbrook