Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 22 2013 - Matthew 14:13-36 – The cost of compassion

Yesterday's reading ended with John the Baptist being put to death so that a corrupt king might not break his drunken oath or lose face with his friends. When Jesus heard the news of John's death, "He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place" (Matthew 14:13). John was Jesus' cousin and had prepared the way for his ministry. Jesus must have been deeply saddened by John's execution. He wanted time on his own to grieve, to think and to pray.

But the crowds would not leave him alone. They walked round the lake to get to the spot where his boat would come ashore. How would Jesus react? We read, "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick" (14:14). Jesus does not remain in the boat while sending his disciples to disperse the crowd. He has compassion on the crowds and puts their needs before his own – he ministers to them: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (20:28).

Jesus' actions are remarkable; he heals and feeds the crowds when his own soul is aching. His ability to minister to others when needing comfort himself comes from his absolute confidence in his own mission. He is doing the work the Father has sent him to do and he is confident that his Father will provide him with the resources he needs: "I have food to eat that you know nothing about" (John 4:32).

Jesus calls us to follow him. We are to minister to others even when our own souls are aching. It’s a hard call. There have been many times when I just wanted to have time to myself – time to think, to pray to be restored. And there is nothing wrong with that. But how have I responded when others have come to me with their needs at such times? This is the moment of testing; am I sufficiently confident of the call of Christ upon my life that I can minister to others when I myself am in need? I am all too aware of my own failings in this area.

I am strangely encouraged by the story of Peter. He really is a man of extraordinary faith. He is not content to wait for Jesus to get into the boat; he wants to walk out on the stormy water to meet him. And at Jesus’ word of command he steps out of the boat and does walk on water. He is a man of great faith and strong determination to follow Christ – at least for a moment. But he is also a man who is quickly overwhelmed by the threatening storm and begins to sink. Jesus gently rebukes his lack of faith even as he grasps his hand and rescues him.

We need to recognise the uniqueness of Christ. Each of us is broken. Each of us is in need of the ministry of Christ by his Spirit. Each of us also needs the ministry of others; this too is the means by which Christ reaches out his hand to us. Each of us not only needs to feed Christ’s sheep, we also need to be fed. There is something deeply disturbing about Christian leaders who project themselves as those without needs; those always ready to minister but never needing ministry.

How then are we to retain the balance between an unfailing servant spirit, ready always to minister to others, and the very real need we each have to receive ministry? This is a continual challenge. The resolution needs to be found in the ministering community rather than in the lone super-minister. We, corporately, are the body of Christ.

Lord Jesus, you look right through the image I project to others to see my heart with all its weakness and failings. Restore my soul and strengthen me through the ministry I receive from others so that I also may minister tirelessly in your name.

Jan 22 2019 - Genesis 27:1-40 – Jacob the trickster

Despite their great love for each other, Isaac and Rebekah have a dysfunctional family. Isaac favours Esau, the elder of his twin sons and one who likes to spend his time outdoors hunting for game. Rebekah favours Jacob who seems to prefer to spend time at home, looking after the more domesticated animals and helping his mother with the cooking. This clear favouring of the different sons sows seeds for discord and even for hatred.

Furthermore, Isaac appears to have been something of a weak character and a bit of a hypochondriac. When we meet him at the beginning of Genesis 27 he has taken to his bed and believes that he is about to die. In fact, he will outlive Rebekah and will still be alive 20 years later when Jacob returns from Haran.

Before the twins were born, the Lord had promised that the elder would serve the younger. Nevertheless, Isaac is determined that Esau his firstborn will be his heir and will inherit the promises God made to Abraham. So he asks Esau to go and hunt game and prepare his favourite meal which he will eat before blessing Esau and dying a happy man. Rebekah overhears the conversation and devises a scheme to deceive her husband. She sends Jacob to get two young goats from the herd which she will prepare as a meal for Isaac – there seems to be nothing wrong with Isaac's appetite! Rebekah then sends Jacob, suitably disguised, to blind Isaac's bedside to tell him that he is Esau and deceive his father into giving him the blessing.

And obtain the blessing he does; he gains it by trickery and downright lies. He lives up to his name, 'Jacob' which means, 'cheat'.

Isaac's blessing, pronounced upon his son, reflects the promise which God had made to Abraham and Isaac. He is promised the good things of the land and victory over his enemies. The blessing concludes with words first spoken by God to Abraham, "Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!" (Genesis 27:29, cf. 12:3).

It's an awful story from beginning to end. Isaac seeks to subvert God's declared purpose to fulfil the promises made to Abraham through Jacob rather than Esau. Rebekah seeks to deceive her husband and ensure that Jacob inherits the promises, not, it would seem, out of a concern to honour God and his word but simply because Jacob is her favourite. Not one of the members of this family behaves in a commendable fashion.

Here we see that God works out his purposes and fulfils his promises through people who are very far from perfect. God displays his grace by working through Jacob, a cheat and a liar. I am reminded in some ways of the history of the apostle Paul. He had been Saul the Pharisee. He had hated the Christian message and had been a persecutor of the Christian church. Yet God chose to give him a key part in fulfilling his plan to extend the blessings of salvation to all the nations of the world. God still uses the most surprising and apparently unsuitable people to accomplish his purposes – that's why there is hope for us. Even when we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.

Faithful God, thank you that your promises extend to sinners and that you are able to bring glory to your name through broken personalities like Isaac and Jacob – and like us. Thank you most of all that your Son was broken for us that we might be made whole. Teach us more of the blessings that are ours in him and help us to hold out your promise of grace and forgiveness to others around us knowing that if you can save us you can save them.

Peter Misselbrook