Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Oct 29 2019 - Isaiah 60 – Arise, shine

In the previous chapter we read of God's determination to come to the aid of his people. He does what no one else is capable of doing: he rescues them from their captivity to sin, restores them as his people and gives them his Spirit so that they might be kept faithful to him. So the Lord calls on his people to rise up from the darkness of their despair and degradation. The light of God's salvation has penetrated their darkness and the glory of the Lord has returned to shine upon, and from, his people (v. 1). The glory of the Lord's salvation will draw other nations to leave their darkness behind and to seek the Lord for themselves (v. 3).

The following verses describe how the riches, resources and skills of the nations will be devoted to building the kingdom of God. The restored Jerusalem is spoken of in extravagant terms. It's gates will always stand open so that the wealth of the nations may be brought in (v. 11; cf. Revelation 21:25-26). Even more striking are verses 19-20:

The sun will no more be your light by day,
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the LORD will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again,
    and your moon will wane no more;
the LORD will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of sorrow will end.

These verses are again echoed in the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:23-24.

The restored city of Jerusalem will experience no more warfare and violence (Isaiah 59:18; cf. Isaiah 2:2-4).

This picture of God's restoration of Jerusalem was never realised in the history of Israel's return from captivity in Babylon. The reality constantly fell short of the prophetic promise – indeed, fell very far short. So the prophetic word points beyond the physical return from Babylon to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who has made an end of the captivity of his people. He is the one in whom the light and glory of God's salvation has shone upon us in all its fulness. He is the one who calls a people from every nation out of their darkness into his marvellous light.

And he is the one who, at his return, will complete that work of salvation when the New Jerusalem descends from heaven clothed with glory. In that day God will live with his people and they will see his face. There shall be no more violence and God, "will wipe every tear from [the] eyes [of his people]. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4; cf. Isaiah 60:18).

Then all your people will be righteous
    and they will possess the land for ever. (Isaiah 60:21)

In that day, all God's salvation promises which are sealed to us in the Lord Jesus shall at last be fulfilled. In that day the reality will far exceed the promises and even our imagination.

The riches and glory of the nations, along with their peoples, shall find a place in the glorious kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing that we rightly value or enjoy now will be lost at Christ's return, only transformed, renewed and clothed in unimaginable glory. I look forward to the music!

Father God, our hearts long for that day when we will be made perfectly like your Son and all of creation will be sanctified and renewed. Help us to live now as citizens of the coming kingdom, that some of its glory may be seen already in our lives, relationships, work and activity. May others be drawn into the life of your kingdom through something they see in us.

Oct 29 2013 - Philemon – No longer a slave but a son

I love the letter of Paul to Philemon. Firstly it contains a wonderful story. One of Philemon's slaves, Onesimus, had run away from his master in Colossae and had managed to travel as far as Rome. There he had met with Paul and, as a result of Paul’s conversations with him, he had become a Christian (v. 10). Although Onesimus has proved useful to Paul, Paul is now sending him back to his master and asking Philemon to receive him back not only as a slave but as a brother. It's a dramatic story.

As a runaway slave, Onesimus could have been put to death but instead he has gained eternal life. The gospel transforms lives and transforms relationships. A useless servant becomes useful. A slave becomes a dear brother.

But the second thing I love about this letter is the crafty way in which Paul writes to Philemon. He says that he is not making demands of Philemon (though he could make demands as an apostle of Christ), but is appealing to him on the basis of love. He says that if Onesimus had stolen anything from Philemon when he ran away, he, Paul, is willing to repay it, but he adds, "not to mention that you owe me your very self" (v.19). Philemon's legal rights are not challenged, but his Christian obligation to forgive Onesimus and to embrace him as a brother is made abundantly clear. Lastly, though Paul is in prison and may face death he adds, "And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers" (v.22). Is this mention of a visit a promise or a threat? Clearly Paul is expecting to see Onesimus occupying a valued place in Philemon's household. Paul is not beyond a bit of arm-twisting for the sake of Onesimus whom he has come to value and love.

And Paul's letter must have done the trick. After all, Philemon did not tear it up and throw it in the fire. He preserved it and deposited it with the letter the church had received from Paul. So it stands now in our Bible as a witness to the power of the gospel to transform relationships. The gospel undermined the institution of slavery – and every other divisive social institution – by creating new family relationships that bridged the chasm of social divisions.

Are there situations in which Paul's manipulative tactics could become a model for us to press the claims of grace over against the demands of law? I'll leave that one with you to ponder: “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

But before we become too crafty, one further point deserves notice. In his opening greetings Paul writes, “I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ” (v. 6). Philemon has become a fellow worker for the gospel, caring for a group of Christians who meet regularly in his house (v. 2). Paul prays that as Philemon shares the gospel with others he may grow in understanding of all the good things that are his in Christ and that he freely shares with others. It is this gospel that must now shape his relationship with Onesimus. Paul is not above putting pressure on Philemon, but it is gospel pressure – the call to live in glad response to all that Christ has done for him.

Heavenly Father, help me always to live in joyful and generous response to all the good things that I have come to possess in Christ. Help me to share these good things freely with others both in the words I speak and in my attitudes and actions towards them. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with me and shape my life as I serve him.

Peter Misselbrook