Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 12 2019 - Genesis 9:18-27; 11:1-9 – Same old problems; Babel

The world after the flood was still a fallen world as God's words to Noah made quite clear.  Noah was given laws to control the violent tendencies of men (see Genesis 8:6). The relationship between mankind and animals which seemed so wonderfully perfect in the ark would soon be marked by fear and slaughter (see Genesis 9:2-3).

The fallen nature of this new creation is also made abundantly clear by the events which we read of in Genesis 9. We read of Noah's drunkenness and Ham's shamelessness; Noah's new world is going the same way as the old. In the chapters that follow we read that as men and women again increased in number so also they increased in wickedness.

Genesis 11 records how the development of new technologies was used in rebellion against God. People discovered how to make bricks and how to stick them together with bitumen. They now had the means of building up great structures from small elements. So they built a city, creating a civilisation rather than remaining nomads or subsistence farmers; they have discovered the power of working together. Now they can settle and build and have a history. So they began to build a tower in the centre of their city, "with its top in the heavens". They wanted to make a name for themselves and ensure that they have a permanent future – that they might not be scattered across the face of the whole earth.

I do not think that this is an effort to climb up to God by human effort so much as it is an attempt to displace God. They want to make a name for themselves; to become masters of their own destiny. It is the story of the Fall all over again.

But so puny is their tower that would reach to the heavens that God has to come down to see it. In judgment he confuses their language with the result that they can no longer build their city; they separate from one another and wander off in every direction. The very fate they had feared has become the consequence of their own actions.

And yes, they have secured a lasting name for themselves; that name is Babel – babble, confusion.

In confusing the language of mankind at Babel and scattering them over the face of the earth, God acted both in judgement and in grace. The divisions between mankind, fundamental to so much of the Old Testament story, is evident still in our different linguistic and ethnic groupings. It is a graphic reminder of the divisive nature of sin. It is only through the work of Christ and of his outpoured Spirit that these divisions between humankind will be healed (see Acts 2).

There are those who still think that their science has displaced God – that they can make a name for themselves and become masters of their own destiny. He who sits in the heavens laughs at their folly.

In the chapters to come we will read how God gives a name to a man and to a people, and through them begins to gather a people for himself from all the scattered nations of the earth. He is the one who will build a city for them.

O Lord, you are very great. Keep me from imagining that I can make a name for myself and become master of my own destiny. Help me to see that my hope and my secure future are to be found in the one to whom you have given the name which is above every name. Help me, together with all your people, to build up the city of God, a city that has foundations.

Jan 12 2013 - Matthew 9:1-17 – Your sins are forgiven

Again we have an account of Jesus performing an act of healing, but this time with an added twist. A paralysed man is brought to Jesus, carried on a mat by some of his friends. Jesus' words to the man seem a little strange, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven" (Matthew 9:2). Certainly they catch the attention of some of the teachers of the law who had gathered among the crowd to see what Jesus was doing and listen to his teaching. To them these words seemed blasphemous; no one can forgive sins but God alone. Jesus, knowing their thoughts says, "Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?" (9:5). Then to show them that he has power to forgive sins, he commands the paralysed man "Get up, take your mat and go home." And he did so.

What is going on in this strange story? Why does Jesus first declare that the man's sins are forgiven rather than simply healing him? Is he suggesting that the man's paralysis is the result of his sin? Why does he link the two?

Jesus made it quite clear on another occasion that there is no necessary link between an individual's sin and their sickness or disability (see John 9:1-3). Sickness and death come to all alike. Nevertheless, there is a link between the two. It is because of sin that sickness and death have entered the world. We live in a world in rebellion against God and a world that, in consequence, is in process of dissolution. Jesus came into the world not only to heal the sick; he came to deal with the problem of the world at its root; he came to deal with sin once and for all. It is for this reason that Jesus links sin and sickness when confronted by the paralysed man. He wants the crowds to understand that he is more than a wonder-worker; he has come to heal the deep hurt of the world; he has come to forgive sin and transform the sinner.

To the teachers of the law, Jesus' words appeared blasphemy. Jesus' response is, in effect, to say, "Do you think this is mere empty talk?" It's an easy thing to say that someone's sins are forgiven. Nothing changes visibly. It could be mere words. Jesus then heals the man with a word to demonstrate that his words have power. He can heal the hurt of the world.

As we read the Gospel accounts we are continually confronted with the person of Jesus and the ultimate question, "Who is this?" Who is this that can still the storm with a word, heal the sick and forgive sin? He is the Saviour of the world who alone can heal its hurt – my hurt.

Surely he took up our pain
   and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
But 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.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

This incident is immediately followed by the call of Matthew the tax collector – the sinner. Jesus forgives sin and embraces and transforms the broken and the outcast. No wonder his disciples celebrated when he was with them.

Lord Jesus, you know me through and through. You know how I have fallen short of all that you created me to be and have often deliberately chosen the path of rebellion. Lord, your word gives me comfort and hope for I know that through your sacrificial death you have paid the price for my sin and I hear your wonderful words, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” Like Matthew, I rise up to follow you. Help me to celebrate in your presence today by keeping close to you and walking in the path of your commandments.

Peter Misselbrook