Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 18 2013 - Matthew 12:22-45 – A divided kingdom

The Pharisees could not deny the power of Jesus. The things he was doing spoke for themselves. Instead they suggested, "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons" (Matthew 12:24). Jesus knows what they are thinking and whispering to each other. He responds by saying, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?" (12:25-26). Satan would not wittingly seek to destroy his own kingdom.

As I read these words of the Lord Jesus I could not help but apply what he said to the life of the church: "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined." All too often, Christians and Christian churches expend their energy in fighting among themselves. It is inevitable that differences will arise in the life of the church; inevitable even, given our imperfection, that divisions may come – as Paul and Barnabas divided company over Mark (see Acts 15:30-41). But surely we fall out too easily and sap the strength of the Kingdom with our internecine conflicts. We need to join battle against the common enemy so that the illegitimate kingdom of Satan may be destroyed.

In particular, we need to remember that we are a people whom Christ has purchased through his own shed blood. When asked by the Jewish leaders for a sign that would give proof of his authority, Jesus replied that the only sign he would give them would be the sign of the prophet Jonah. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (12:40). It is by his death and resurrection that he demonstrates that he is the one whom the Father has sent to be Saviour of the world. It is by his death that he has redeemed us and made us his own; it is through his resurrection that he has raised us from death to life.

If Jesus did this for us, should we not willingly give ourselves to one another? We should be ready to suffer hurt at the hands of others without turning our back on them and rejecting them. Rather than passing harsh criticism on others we should seek to understand their own brokenness and need and to deal graciously with them. We should seek to become more like our lovely Saviour of whom it was prophesied;

He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smouldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
    and in his name the Gentiles will hope. (12:19-21 cf. Isaiah 42:1-4)

A quarrelling and divided church undermines its witness to the word; it ceases to be the hope of the world.

Father in heav'n,
you saved us by your Son,
now by your Spirit
make your children one
that all may see
your kingdom here begun.
   
Jesus our Lord,
forgive our foolish pride,
heal our divisions
no device can hide;
come, heal the wounds
which spoil your chosen bride:

See how your body
is broken and torn,
mocked by the crowds and
the object still of scorn.

Come mighty Spirit
of truth and of love,
visibly fill us
with life from above.

Father in heav'n,
you saved us by your Son,
now by your Spirit
make your children one
that all may see
your kingdom here begun.

Jan 18 2019 - Genesis 21:1-21 – Joyful and scornful laughter

In Genesis 17:17 we read that, after God had confirmed that Sarah would soon bear him a child, "Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, 'shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?'" We can imagine the scene with Abraham rolling around on the ground in a fit of helpless laughter at the preposterous suggestion that such a thing should be.

Later, in Genesis 18:9-15 we read of the Lord visiting Abraham and speaking with him as he sat outside his tent. Abraham was told that about this time next year Sarah would bear him a son. Sarah, who was listening from within the tent, laughed at this suggestion. It just seemed plain ridiculous. But the Lord repeated his promise, saying, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (18:14).

In chapter 21 we read of the birth of the promised and long-awaited child. He is called "Isaac", as the Lord had instructed in 17:19. The name means, "He laughed", or perhaps, "laughter". It is to be a reminder to Abraham and Sarah of their laughter of disbelief; but that is only half of the significance of the name. With the naming of the child, Sarah says, "God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me... Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? [The Lord had said it – several times!] Yet I have borne him a son in his old age" (21:6-7). His name is also expressive of the overflowing joy of his parents who not only have a son, but who also know that God can be trusted to do what he has promised.

The laughter of disbelief has been turned into the laughter of joy – and a joy that will be shared with everyone they meet. What seemed a ludicrous suggestion has become a reality because nothing is too hard for the Lord.

But there is more laughter to come.

When Isaac had finished being weaned, probably at about two or three years old, Abraham threw a party for him. By this time, Ishmael, the son that Sarah's servant Hagar had borne to Abraham, was about 16 years old. During the festivities, Sarah saw Ishmael laughing at Isaac – probably mocking the idea that this little child could be the subject of such great promises. Sarah demanded that Ishmael be sent away with his mother Hagar so that the son of a slave woman would not share the inheritance of Abraham along with her son Isaac. Reluctantly Abraham sent them off into the desert, but God looked after them and preserved their lives.

This rivalry between these two sons of Abraham will continue into rivalry between two nations or peoples – the Israelites, the descendants of Isaac, and Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael. Yet the majority of both these peoples remain united in mocking the promises of God that find their focus in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing but shared faith in Jesus Christ – a faith like that of Abraham – can heal this ancient division.

Almighty God, there are times when I doubt your word and am tempted to laugh with disbelief at some of you promises. Forgive my small views of you, Lord. Teach me to see that nothing is too difficult for you. Turn my doubting laughter into overflowing joy. And look upon the many who still mock the child who is heir to all of your promises, and so are excluded from your inheritance. Open the eyes of those who mock your Christ that they may see the water of life that is to be found in him. Unite them in faith and make them joint heirs with Christ to all the blessings of God.

Peter Misselbrook