Peter Misselbrook's Blog
18/08/2019 - Psalm 103 – He does not treat us as our sins deserve

Count your blessings, name them one by one…
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

So goes the chorus of an old hymn, perhaps inspired by this wonderful psalm.

The author of this psalm urges us not to forget all that the Lord has done for us. To assist us in not forgetting, he lists some of the blessings, or "benefits" which the Lord has lavished on us in his great love and compassion (v.4). Most precious of these is the assurance that he forgives us all our sins (v.3).

He does not treat us as our sins deserve
   or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
   so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (vv.10-13)

These blessings are given us freely, but we know that they have been purchased at great cost; they are ours only because of Jesus. He is the one who came from the heights of heaven to become part of this poor world because of the greatness of his love for us. In his sacrificial death upon the cross, God treated him as our sins deserved; he endured the wrath of God in our place. He is the one who has removed our transgressions from us – as far as the east is from the west – so that they can never again condemn us.

How should we respond to God's love and compassion? We should praise the Lord with all our being (v.1). If angels in glory never cease to sing God's praise, and all creation praises him in its own way (vv.20-22), praise should often be found on our lips and always be the keynote of our lives.

Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God,
In every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim
Thy being and Thy ways.
Not for the lip of praise alone,
Nor e’en the praising heart
I ask, but for a life made up
Of praise in every part! (Horatius Bonar)

Nor shall our praise last only for a lifetime. This psalm reminds us of our mortality (vv. 15-16), but assures us that the Lord's love stretches from everlasting to everlasting for those that fear him (v.17). So, to quote Isaac Watts:

I'll praise my Maker while I've breath;
and when my voice is lost in death,
praise shall employ my nobler powers.
My days of praise shall ne'er be past,
while life, and thought, and being last,
or immortality endures.

Father forgive me that I am sometime so preoccupied with the details of my daily life that I lose sight of the fact that I am truly and greatly blessed. Open my eyes to the wonders of your grace towards me in the Lord Jesus Christ; open my heart to love you as you have loved me; open my mouth to sing your praise; open my whole being to the life of your kingdom.

17/08/2019 - Jeremiah 19 – The shattered pot

Sometimes prophets were told to act out the message which the Lord had given them to take to his people. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this was when Hosea was told to take a woman to be his wife who would be unfaithful to him. God intended Hosea's domestic life to be a visible picture of his own relationship with, and love for, a faithless people. Jeremiah did not need to do anything quite so traumatic, but he also was called to dramatize his message by acting it out before the elders and priests of the people in Jerusalem.

In the previous chapter, Jeremiah 18, the Lord had told Jeremiah to go to the potter's house where he would be given a message for the people. Jeremiah went and watched the potter working at his wheel: "But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him" (18:4). Before he formed it into something else, the potter must have crushed it and moulded it afresh into a ball before centring it again on his wheel. Then the Lord told Jeremiah, "Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does? (18:6).

The Lord is preparing to crush his rebellious people. But beyond judgment there is the hope that God will take them again into his hands and will refashion them into something pleasing to him. This is the background to today's reading from Jeremiah 19.

Jeremiah was now told to buy a new clay jar from the potter and to summon the leaders of the people to meet him near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. Outside this gate seems to have been the place where old broken pottery was thrown. Unlike the clay in the potter's hand, the fired earthenware is no longer pliable and capable of being refashioned. This pot represents the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem who have hardened their hearts against Jeremiah's call for repentance and have even begun to plot against him.

Jeremiah declares that God is going to come in judgment against Judah and Jerusalem. He will judge them because of their detestable idolatry in burning incense to idol-gods and even burning "their children in the fire as offerings to Baal" (v.6). This valley which acted as a rubbish dump for the city would be filled with the bodies of those who would be slaughtered in the coming siege of the city. And in that siege, the people would even be forced to eat the bodies of their dead children!

Jeremiah then dashed the clay pot to the ground so that it shattered into pieces and was lost in the general mess of potsherds. Addressing the rulers of the city he declared, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired" (v.11). He then re-entered the city, went into the temple and declared, "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Listen! I am going to bring on this city and all the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.'" (v.15).

We may not be eager to listen to passages of scripture which speak of God's judgments against his rebellious people, particularly when they are expressed in such violent terms. But this is a sign of our failure to understand the holiness of our God and the intensity of his anger against sin. It was also outside the city of Jerusalem that God's judgment fell on his own Son as Jesus died in our place. It was because he endured the fulness of God's wrath against sin that we are forgiven and need not fear the judgment to come; "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). For rebellious Judah also there was to be hope beyond judgment.

Father God we thank you that you are slow to anger and rich in mercy. Like a potter with the clay, you long to take what is spoilt and remould it into something beautiful and useful. Continue that remoulding work in our own lives as, by your Spirit, you make us more like your Son.

16/08/2019 - Jeremiah 10:1-16 – Idols are not like our God

Much of today's passage is devoted to describing idols. The craftsman takes a piece of wood from the forest and labours in shaping it to represent a god. It is then adorned with precious metals – hammered silver brought from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz – before being adorned with blue and purple garments made by skilled workers. Finally it is fastened to some sort of stand or plinth – without nails it would topple over. It's "like a scarecrow in a cucumber field," says Jeremiah (v.5). It cannot speak or move but is carried by those who worship it. You don't need to fear such 'gods'.

Jeremiah is addressing a people who have adopted the practices of the peoples around them (v.1). They are full of superstitious fears – that if they do not placate this or that god, if they do not offer right sacrifices then they will suffer bad harvests or disease. When they see "signs in the heavens" – perhaps gathering storms before the harvest is ripe – they are filled with fear and rush off to prostrate themselves to their scarecrow. There is no need to fear such things, says Jeremiah, these idols are worthless and helpless; they cannot bring blessing or trouble to those devoted to them.

But what a contrast there is with the Lord, the living and true God. He was not made by the hands of human craftsmen – or conjured up by the ingenuity of human priests or theologians.

He is the living God, the eternal King…
God made the earth by his power;
    he founded the world by his wisdom
    and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. (vv.10,12)

He is the God who made us and who has set his love on his foolish and wayward people (see v.16). He is a God who sees and hears and acts. He is a God to be feared for:

When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
    he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
    and brings out the wind from his storehouses. (v.13)

The "signs in the heavens" are his signs, whether lightning and thunder or the darkening clouds that bring the longed for rain. He created the rainbow and sets it in the sky to assure us that in judgment he always remembers mercy. He is a God who keeps his covenant promises.

Many people today are enslaved by all sorts of superstitious fears. They follow their horoscopes, fearful of what the coming day or week may bring. Many still prostrate themselves before idols of their own making. The living God has freed us from such fears. He sent his Son into the world to show us the depth of his love and to win us back to himself. He is the God who alone sees and hears and acts. He is the God who stoops to save and who lifts us up.

Verse 11 of this passage has a message for the nations: "Tell them this: 'These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.'" The Book of Jeremiah was written in Hebrew, but this message is written in Aramaic, the common language of the empire in Jeremiah's day. It is the message from the living God for a world cowering in fear. It is the message entrusted now to us: "Put away your worthless idols and come to know the living God who has made himself known in the Lord Jesus Christ. Exchange his peace for your fear."

Father God, we thank you that you are not an idol of our own making but the living God who created all things and who made us that we should know and love you. Thank you for the Lord Jesus who has set us free from fear and, by his death and resurrection, forgiven us all our sins and given us life that even death cannot destroy. Help us by your Spirit to tell others, in words they can understand, of your great love that they too may turn to the living God from idols and live lives freed from fear.

15/08/2019 - Jeremiah 7:1-20 – Empty worship

Can you imagine the scene: Jeremiah standing at the gate into the temple berating those who were coming to worship? He tells them that the Lord is not happy with their superstitious worship. They are confident that since this is God's house, "the temple of the Lord", God will protect it from all harm and thereby keep them safe also. But Jeremiah points out that they are living in arrogant disregard for God's law. They are oppressing foreigners, exploiting the fatherless and widows and shedding innocent blood (vv.5-6). They have been stealing, committing adultery and perjury and offering worship to Baal and to the Queen of Heaven (vv.9,18). Their trust in the temple as if it were a religious talisman is "trusting in deceptive words that are worthless" (v.8). They have turned the temple of God into "a den of robbers" (v.11).

The Lord calls the worshipers in Jerusalem to go and take a look at Shiloh. Shiloh was situated in the northern kingdom of Israel. It was the place where the tabernacle was first set up after the conquest (Judges 18:1-10), and formed the centre of worship for God's people until David moved the tabernacle to Jerusalem. Shiloh had been a sacred site but, says the Lord through Jeremiah, go and look at it now. It has been utterly destroyed. The Lord calls those worshipping at Jerusalem to recognise that the same could easily happen to this temple and to Jerusalem if they continue to ignore God's word and to live in immorality and idolatry. Their conduct is not just provoking God's judgment, it is harming them (v.19).

When the Lord Jesus visited the temple in Jerusalem, he quoted Jeremiah 7:11, accusing the temple authorities of turning God's house into a den of robbers or thieves. He warned them that the clouds of God's judgment were gathering and that their temple would be destroyed – not one stone would be left on another. God takes no pleasure in empty worship where careful observance of external forms is not accompanied by a heart and life utterly devoted to God and his word.

What a contrast there is with the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He referred to himself as the temple for he was the one in whom the living God had made his dwelling among us. He was holy and his life was devoted to doing the will of his Father in heaven. His was a perfect obedience to the word of God. Yet this temple also was destroyed – it was destroyed by the concerted action of those who were the guardians of the temple in Jerusalem along with the Roman authorities. Yet this temple – the temple of his body – was also destroyed under the judgment of God. He bore the penalty for our sin and rebellion when he was nailed to that cross and left to die.

But Jesus had told the puzzled Jewish leaders, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days" (John 2:19, Mark 14:58). On the third day he rose again from the dead and lives for ever as the meeting place between humankind and God.

And now he calls us to learn of him and to follow him. He calls us to worship the living God not just in outward forms but in spirit and in truth. He calls us to devote our lives to him as living sacrifices, utterly given to pleasing God just as he devoted himself to doing the Father's will. He tells us that the path of obedience is the path of unimaginable blessing while the path of rebellion ends in hurt and in loss for ourselves.

Father God, keep us from thinking that your grace and goodness to us in the Lord Jesus means that we can live as we like and be assured of our acceptance with you – "Let us continue in sin that grace may abound." Rather, may your grace teach "us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Make us like your Son and help us, by the character of our lives as well as the words we speak, to draw others to him.

14/08/2019 - Jeremiah 3:1-18 – Call to a faithless people

You may remember that Josiah had ordered the temple to be repaired and idols removed. As the work was going on, a scroll of the Book of the Covenant was discovered containing the laws which God had given his people through Moses – a scroll which may have contained the Book of Deuteronomy. Jeremiah 3:1 seems to refer to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which prohibited a divorced couple, after marrying others, from getting back together. One writer explains this law as follows:

[It] was aimed against what would amount to virtually lending one's partner to another – for if an authoritarian husband could dismiss his wife and have her back when the next man had finished with her, it would degrade not only her but marriage itself and the society that accepted such a practice. (Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah)

Such practices would trivialise marriage, turning it from being a binding commitment into a temporary association that people could drift into and out of at will.

And this, says the Lord, is how his people have been behaving. God uses the dramatic picture of marriage to represent his relationship with his people. Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes, had been married to two sisters. God represents his relationship with his people in the same way; both Judah and her sister, the northern kingdom of Israel, were his brides, united to him in the covenant bonds of his redeeming love.

But both Israel and Judah have treated their relationship with the Lord as if they could drift away from it and back to it as they pleased; they have failed to take it seriously. They have been seduced away by the idol gods of the nations around them. They have installed their lovers, their gods and goddesses, on every hilltop where they performed sexual acts hoping to charm the rain out of the sky and the corn from the earth in the time-honoured way of Canaan.

But the Lord alone is the living God. He is the one who has withheld the rain and blighted their harvests (v.3). He is the one who has allowed the unfaithful northern kingdom of Israel to be defeated by the Arameans and taken off into captivity: "I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries" (v.8). But, "In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretence,’ declares the Lord" (v.10).

The Lord had hoped that Judah would learn from Israel's fate and would abandon her love affair with idols. With the discovery of the scroll in the temple there had indeed been some reform. Josiah had destroyed many of the places where Baal and Asherah were worshipped. He had called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem, along with the people of Judah, their priests and prophets, and had read in their hearing the Book of the Covenant. Then:

The king … renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord – to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul… Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. (2 Kings 23:3)

But reform was only skin deep. Far from keeping the Lord's commands with all their hearts and souls, the people of Judah had quickly drifted back into the idolatrous worship of the gods of Canaan. Through Jeremiah, the Lord declares that their sin is worse than that of Israel.

How seriously do we treat our relationship with our God? The Lord Jesus has redeemed us through his shed blood so that he might make us his own – his bride. But are we sometimes drawn away from him by the idols of this world – the things which charm, captivate, excite and entertain the world around us? God gave his best for us to make us his own. Let's not hold back anything from him but offer him the undivided devotion of heart and soul.

Father God, help us by your Spirit to keep ourselves in your love and to keep ourselves from idols.

13/08/2019 - Jeremiah 2:1-22, 32 – Broken cisterns

A number of years ago, my wife went to the wedding of a work colleague who, along with her husband to be, were both Christians, though many others attending the wedding were not. One of the hymns they chose for the wedding included the memorable verse:

I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,
  But, ah, the waters failed!
E’en as I stooped to drink they fled,
  And mocked me as I wailed.

My wife wondered what on earth her non-Christian colleagues made of these very strange words!

The picture expressed in that hymn comes from today's passage. Jeremiah 2:13 reads:

My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

A "cistern" was a hole constructed to hold water, whether dug in the open ground or fashioned from an underground cavern. In dry countries such as Judah they would be used to collect water during the wet season and to store it for use during a dry season. Cracked or broken cisterns that could not hold water were useless and life-threatening. Through Jeremiah, God accuses his people of a double folly; they have turned their back on the Lord who is the source of life-giving, plentiful and unfailing water and have turned to to idols, broken cisterns of their own making.

God's reminds his people of their first devotion to him when he rescued them from Egypt and led them through the wilderness (2:1-2). We might argue that even then, Israel were a rebellious people, but now they have unashamedly turned to worthless idols. "What fault did your ancestors find in me" says the Lord, "that they strayed so far from me?" (v.5). Why have they turned away from the Lord who brought them out of Egypt, through the desert and into this fertile land? (vv.6-7). Even their leaders have abandoned the Lord and their prophets prophesy by Baal (v.8). Surely, says God, no other nation has "ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols" (v.11). The Lord's complaint concludes:

Does a young woman forget her jewellery,
    a bride her wedding ornaments?
Yet my people have forgotten me,
    days without number. (v.32)

Let me return to the strange words of that hymn with which I began. The hymn is not as strange as it might seem from the verse quoted and is worth reading through in full. It has a wonderful chorus:

Now none but Christ can satisfy,
  None other name for me;
There’s love and life and lasting joy,
    Lord Jesus, found in Thee.

Jesus spoke of himself as the source of living water – of abundant blessings to satisfy the thirsty soul. How sad that so many turn away from Christ to seek satisfaction in what their own hands can fashion or the world tells them will bring satisfaction.

Father God, we thank you for the Lord Jesus in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Keep our hearts from turning away from Christ. Help us rather to draw others to him who is our life, our hope and our delight.

12/08/2019 - Jeremiah 1 – The call of Jeremiah

We leave Isaiah to focus on other prophets whom the Lord called to declare his word to Jerusalem and Judah in the days before the Exile. Let me remind you of the historical background.

The Assyrian Empire dominated Israel and Judah to the north-east while Egypt threatened them from the south-west. Israel's rebellion against Assyria had seen the northern kingdom swept aside. Hezekiah, king of Judah, had also rebelled against Assyria. The Assyrian army had invaded the land and destroyed many of its cities, but Jerusalem was spared (see Isaiah 1:7a). After Hezekiah's death, his son, Manasseh sought to placate Assyria by returning to the worship of pagan gods.

Jeremiah was a contemporary of Josiah who, having discovered the Book of the Covenant in the temple, sought to turn the nation back to the worship of the Lord. Josiah remained Jeremiah's protector until his untimely death in battle against Egypt. Meanwhile, the Assyrian empire was being eclipsed by the rising power of Babylon. Jeremiah then became a lone voice calling the people back to the Lord and warning them of the growing threat from Babylon.

It was in the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign that God called Jeremiah to be his prophet, declaring his word not just to Judah and Jerusalem, but to the nations. Despite the Lord's assurance that he had been preparing Jeremiah for this task from before he was born, Jeremiah does not think that he is the right person for the job. "Alas, Sovereign Lord," he says, "I do not know how to speak; I am too young." His protests are reminiscent of those of the elderly Moses when the Lord called him to go and rescue his people from Egypt. The Lord assures Jeremiah that just as he had prepared him for this task, so now he will be with him to enable him to go where he is commanded to go and say what he is commanded to say. The Lord then reached out and touched Jeremiah's mouth as a sign that the Lord has put his word in Jeremiah's mouth – a word that will be powerful and effective to uproot and overthrow kingdoms (v.10). This must have terrified Jeremiah.

Jeremiah is shown a couple of visions. The first assures Jeremiah that the Lord is watching to ensure that his word is fulfilled (v.12). The second is of a boiling pot being poured out towards Jerusalem from the north – from Assyria and Babylon. This is a sign that God is stirring up the nations in the north to rise up in battle against Judah and Jerusalem.

Jeremiah is to declare God's judgment on his people, "because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshipping what their hands have made" (v.16). The Lord tells Jeremiah not to be terrified by those to whom he is sent, for, "Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land – against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you" (vv.18-19).

The Lord Jesus gave similar assurances to his first disciples. He told them that just as the Father had sent him into the world, so now he was sending them. If the world had hated and rejected the Lord Jesus, they were not to be surprised if it hated them also. But they were not to be afraid. Jesus promised to be with his disciples to the very end of the age and, by his Spirit, give them the words that they should say. Nor were these promises only for those first disciples; this is a promise that holds good until the end of the age – until the day when Jesus Christ returns.

Father God, help us to be faithful in telling the world of your holy anger against sin but also of your wonderful salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, give us the words to say in the various situations where you place us that we might always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Lord Jesus, keep us from fear and enable us to know that you are always with us, to the very end of the age.

11/08/2019 - Psalm 100 – Enter his gates with thanksgiving

Psalm 100 is quite short, but it is a fitting response to yesterday's reading in Isaiah 35.

This psalm calls upon all the earth to join together in joyful praise of God. He is deserving of praise because he is our creator; we owe our life and breath to him along with the innumerable blessings of this present life. In the words of the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4:11 we acknowledge:

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created  and have their being.

And in recognising that "It is he who made us" (Ps 100:3), we recognise that he is the creator of everything and that all things owe him their thanks and praise.

Secondly, we worship the Lord because he is our great redeemer. The Lord Jesus laid down his life for the sheep and is risen from the dead to be the great Shepherd of his people. In the words of Revelation 5:12, we come before God with thanksgiving and praise saying:

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honour and glory and praise!

Our God is good and his love endures for ever. That love has been most clearly displayed in Jesus. It is love that will not let us go, a love that will bring us safe to glory and then embrace us for all eternity (Romans 8:38-39). We are thankful that we have experienced the greatness of God's love and we want all the earth to come into the embrace of that love.

If our lives were dominated by thankfulness towards God and characterised by a spirit of praise, do you not think that they would attract others to Christ as a pot of honey attracts wasps? How might praise change our lives and transform our witness to Christ?

Billy Bray was born in Cornwall in 1794. After a life of hard work and drunkenness, he came to a knowledge of salvation through the preaching of Methodists and the Hymns of Wesley. He was soundly converted and his life was transformed. It is well worth reading an account of his life. Here is a short extract from one brief account:

Happiness now became a marked feature of Billy's life. His happiness was real, and he did not try to conceal it. Some did not like him shouting and singing for joy. But Billy would reply, "The Devil would rather see us doubting than hear us shouting… If they were to put me in a barrel, I would shout 'glory' out through the bunghole. I can say glory, glory: I can sing glory, glory: I can dance glory, glory."

This happiness characterised Billy even as he was walking along the street: "I lift up one foot, and it seems to say 'glory', and I lift up the other, and it seems to say, 'Amen': and so they keep on like that all the time that I am walking."

Billy told everyone he met how happy he was. He told them because he wanted them to seek happiness in the same way.

Billy Bray's life made a deep impression on others and he was used to draw many to faith in the Lord Jesus. What might God do through our lives if they were marked by similarly irrepressible thanks and praise?

Lord, I am rather reserved and not keen on attracting attention by shouting out with joyful praise of you. By your Spirit make me like those first disciples who could not but speak of the things they had seen and heard. So use me for the extension of your kingdom and the glory of your name.

Peter Misselbrook