Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 17 2013 - Matthew 12:1-21 – Lord of the Sabbath

Yesterday we saw that Jesus promises rest to those who will come and follow him. Today we find that he and his followers are accused of scorning God's promised day of rest.

First we read that Jesus’ disciples were plucking grain as they walked through fields on the Sabbath day – no doubt making their way to the synagogue. In the eyes of the Pharisees, they were doing work rather than resting on the Sabbath day. Part of Jesus’ response to his accusers is a reminder that priests work in the Temple on the Sabbath and are held guiltless, for they are doing the will of God. “I tell you” says Jesus, “something greater than the Temple is here.” The Temple was intended as an enormous visual aid. At the dedication of the first Temple, Solomon declared that the living God could not possibly be confined to a building made by human hands; he did not literally live in the Temple. Rather, it was intended to act as sign and continual reminder to the Israelites that the God of Abraham had chosen to make them his people and that he delighted to dwell among them.

Jesus is far greater than the Temple; indeed, he is the reality to which the Temple had pointed. He is no mere visual aid; he is the living God come to dwell among his people. But the Jewish leaders remained blind to this wonderful reality and could only see that he seemed to have scant regard for their rules.

The plucking of ears of grain might have seemed a casual and careless transgression. But it is followed by a very deliberate act by Jesus. Having arrived at the synagogue Jesus saw a man with a withered and useless hand. The Pharisees were eager to find further cause to discredit Jesus and so challenged him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" (Matthew 12:10). Jesus' response exposed his inquisitors hypocrisy; "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Jesus then told the man to stretch out his useless hand. Immediately he stretches it out and finds in so doing that he is healed.

Often in the Gospels we find that Jesus seems to take delight in healing people on the Sabbath day. For Jesus there could be no more fitting day for such action. On the first Sabbath of creation, God rested from all that he had made and saw that it was very good. More than that, he invited all that he had created to enter into his Sabbath and share with him the joy of a perfect creation. Jesus declares that he is Lord of the Sabbath. By his power he restores the sick to health and gives them rest. They enjoy the blessing of a renewed creation and enter into the finished work of the Son. Jesus works on the Sabbath day so that the broken and marred may be made complete and very good. It is through his good work that those he touches can enter into rest – enter into his rest.

Matthew concludes this story with a touch of terrible irony. Jesus has declared that it is lawful and fitting to do good on the Sabbath. In response to his actions, "the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus" (12:14). Jesus is the one who gives life, but his opponents will not rest in their evil determination to destroy life.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you will not rest until you have finished your new creation. Thank you that you do all things well. Help me both to labour with you in doing good and to enjoy the rest you give as Lord of the Sabbath.

Jan 17 2019 - Genesis 19:1-29 – The Destruction of Sodom

This is, by any estimate, a truly shocking chapter of Scripture. Why are these incidents recorded in the Bible? How can this chapter be "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?

This chapter is not about the "sin of homosexuality". Isaiah likens rebellious Judah to Sodom in its empty religion, violence and failure to care for those in need (Isaiah 1:10-17). Ezekiel declares the inhabitants of Sodom were "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy" (Ezekiel 16:53). This chapter is not about homosexual love but about the kind of male rape that sadly still occurs as a means of domination in warfare and within prisons.

What then is this chapter about?

Firstly it reminds us of the appalling consequences that can flow from bad choices. When Abraham and his nephew Lot agreed to separate because their flocks had grown too large to graze together, Lot chose what the land in Jordan valley rather than the less fertile hill country (Genesis 13:10-13). He reckoned that living in the region of Sodom would enable him to prosper. He looked only at external appearance and not at the character of the people among whom he would be living.

How have we gone about making critical choices for ourselves and for our families? Have we simply looked at what might be the best route to prosperity or have we considered where we might best grow in knowledge of God and be useful in his service? The story of Lot is a salutary reminder of the cost of bad choices.

Secondly, this chapter reminds us of the reality of God's judgment. We have a "compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6). But he will not forever turn a blind eye to human rebellion and violence; he is a God of justice. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah stands as a warning to a world that continues to turn its back upon God and his salvation in the Lord Jesus – the one "who rescues us from the coming wrath" (1 Thessalonians 1:10). We should not seek to minimise the reality and awfulness of God's wrath against sin.

But this chapter also displays the mercy of God. Despite the folly of his choices, Lot and his family are saved from judgment. Indeed, if Lot's sons-in-law had believed God's warning, they too would have been saved. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked; he longs for them to turn back to him and be saved (see Ezekiel 18:23 and 1 Timothy 2:3-5).

We are told in Genesis 19:29 that "when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities." Lot was saved because God remembered his covenant with Abraham and extended his compassion to Lot. It is because of God's covenant faithfulness towards us in Christ that we too are saved.

Lastly, this passage warns us of the danger of turning back from following Christ. We should be like Paul who said, "one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). Jesus warned his followers not to turn back saying, "Remember Lot's wife!" (Luke 17:32).

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the Lord Jesus Christ who has saved us from the coming judgment. Without him we would be lost. Help us always to look to him and keep on following him. Help us also to tell others of the one who alone can forgive sins and reconcile us to God. Make us your messengers through whom others may be saved.

Peter Misselbrook