Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 29 2013 - Matthew 19:13-30 – The rich man’s question

A rich man once came to Jesus to ask what good thing he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus' response to the man does not seem to fit well with our handy summaries of the gospel. It's obvious how Jesus should have dealt with the man. First he should have challenged his understanding of works-righteousness and told him that there was nothing he could do to gain eternal life. It's not about earning salvation, it's a matter of receiving it as a gift. Then he should have explained that the death he was shortly to suffer was to be an atoning sacrifice for this man's sins. He should then have told the man that he could only be justified through faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death. So he should have urged the man to believe in him and be saved before returning to enjoy his riches.

The way Jesus deals with this man defies all of our simplistic reductions of the gospel. Indeed, it may even be argued that the message Jesus had for him was not good news at all, for he calls him to let go of all that was precious to him.

Should we seek to press Jesus into the mould of our pocket-sized gospel or do we have to rethink our understanding of the gospel in the light of Jesus words?

Jesus calls this young man not to a moment of decision but to a life of following him. This call demands a radical reordering of every part of his life. Jesus' demand for the young man to give away all that he has is a call to toss aside all that stands in the way of following him. It is a call to reassess what is truly valuable. It also challenges him to rethink his easy assertion that he has kept the law perfectly from his youth. Has this man truly loved his neighbour as himself when he is so reluctant to use his riches to help the poor? Is he free from the sin of covetousness just because he did not want what was possessed by someone else?

The disciples' are perplexed when Jesus goes on to speak of how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. In their culture, riches were viewed as a sign of God's blessing and approval. But Jesus warns that riches are all too often a stumbling block; the one who possesses them feels self-sufficient and in need of nothing. The disciples' understanding of the kingdom needed a radical makeover.

Is this any less true of us – we who live in the prosperous West and who seem so reluctant to sacrifice our lifestyle so that our neighbours in other parts of the world may have food enough for themselves and their children? What would Jesus say to us?

Jesus challenges our understanding of the gospel. It's not just about faith as a set of beliefs or simple confession; it's about the lifelong transforming call to follow Jesus. If we have a concept of justification by faith that makes us feel that the letter of James is an epistle of straw, we need to look again at the message of Jesus. Jesus does not allow us to get away with a simplistic gospel. He calls us to costly discipleship which has the promise of a hundredfold treasures in the commonwealth of the people of God and an inheritance of glory to come.

Father, forgive me that I so often rewrite the gospel to suit my own desires. Lord Jesus, open my ears to hear clearly what you are saying to me and teach me what it means to follow you. I own you as Lord; may no part of my life be excluded from your kingdom rule. Spirit of God, help me to give up my own treasures in the light of the matchless treasure of Christ and his kingdom. May following him be all my joy and my delight.

Jan 29 2019 - Genesis 37:1-36 – Joseph sold into slavery

Jacob had a complicated household. He now had twelve sons born to his two wives and their maidservants. Only the youngest two sons, Joseph and his younger brother Benjamin, had been born to his favourite wife, Rachel. Rachel had died giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob's great love for Rachel was reflected in the way he loved these two sons more than all the others. In particular, he showed his love for Joseph in making him a special coat – whether it was 'a coat of many colours' we cannot be sure (the meaning of the original term is unclear).

Joseph is now seventeen and is enjoying his 'most favoured son' status. He seems to enjoy getting his older brothers into trouble by telling father Jacob about anything improper they had got up to. As a result, unsurprisingly, his brothers hated him. And then there are Joseph's dreams that suggested he would lord it over his brothers and even over his father and his step-mother Leah. His father rebuked him for his dreams, but at the same time he father pondered what Joseph had said. His brothers simply hated him all the more.

Joseph is not an attractive character; he is a spoilt and arrogant young man. Nevertheless, God plans to use this man to save his whole family, safeguard the promise made to Abraham and bring blessing to the nations of the world. Again we learn that God uses broken people like us to accomplish his purposes and establish his kingdom.

One day, Joseph was sent by his father Jacob to check up on the brothers who are looking after the flocks some 50 miles north in Shechem. In fact, Joseph has to travel 15 miles further to the outskirts of the city of Dothan to find them – what were they getting up to in the city and why had Jacob felt the need to check up on them?

When they see him coming, the brothers plot to kill the dreamer. But Reuben, the eldest, persuades them to throw Joseph into a nearby pit designed to gather water during the rainy season. He plans to return later and rescue Joseph, perhaps hoping that this experience will taught him a lesson. But Reuben is not there when the Midianite traders pass by and Judah, another of the older brothers, suggests that they sell Joseph as a slave. So they exchange Joseph for twenty shekels of silver – money to spend in Dothan?

Reuben returns and finds that Joseph is gone and is distraught. He knows that, as the eldest, he will be held responsible for what has happened. Together they hit upon a plan. They took Joseph's coat, tore it and splatted it with blood from a goat to deceive their father into thinking that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Jacob, the old deceiver, is deceived and will not be comforted by his daughters or by his deceiving sons.

What a sorry mess! And what are we to make of this story? It's all too easy to seek to draw out moral lessons: fathers should not have favourite sons; obnoxious teenagers are heading for trouble; the hankering after the bright lights of the city when far from home will lead you into sin; those who deceive their father will be deceived by their sons... But the Bible narrative does not stop to focus on any of these issues; it is concerned to tell the extraordinary story of how God works out his purposes through human rivalry and wickedness. Joseph is sold into slavery that he might become a servant of the purposes of God.

Almighty God, thank you that you are sovereign over all of history and that you are working out your purposes even through the sinful act of others. Thank you for the cross and for the salvation that streams to us from that ultimate act of human wickedness. Help me to know that your work in me is for your own glory so that I may never boast in anything except the greatness of your saving work in Christ.

Peter Misselbrook