Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Dec 15 2019 - Psalm 139 – Known by God

We all have things in our lives or in our history which we would not wish everyone to know about. And we are glad that others cannot see our thoughts which may not always be complimentary or kind towards others. How do we feel about the fact that God knows everything about us; he knows all that we have done, all that we have said and the thoughts, longings and plans of our hearts?

This wonderful psalm was composed by David and was written from the perspective of one who is a child of God. He is fully aware that God sees and knows everything about him but, rather than filling him with fear, this fills him with a sense of thanksgiving and assurance (vv. 1-6). He delights in the fact that God knows every detail of his life, even the trivial things such as when he stands up and when he sits down, when he goes out or when he lies down. God even knows what he is about to say before he says it. He cannot really get his head round this level of knowledge and care – it's just too wonderful for him. We sometimes use the phrase, "Out of sight, out of mind." The opposite is also true, particularly of our relationship with God; we are never out of his sight and we are never out of his mind – he delights in his unceasing and unfailing fatherly care of us.

But it's not just that God sees and knows all about us, David goes on to say that God is with us wherever we go (vv. 7-12). Again, this can be a frightening thought if we are foolish enough to be seeking to escape from God – like Adam and Eve in the Garden or Jonah on his way to Tarshish. But it is a wonderfully comforting thought to the child of God. We are never alone. Our God is no local deity who is no longer with us if we should "settle on the far side of the sea". Heaven and earth are full of his presence (and his glory if we can but see it). The day will come when we will take our last journey and leave this world altogether. Our God will be with us in that journey too. The Saviour who passed through death to life will be with us and will keep us safe on that last part of our pilgrimage: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me" (Psalm 23:4). We need not be afraid of death.

David continues with the wonderfully confident assertion that this God, whose presence and knowledge continually surrounds him, also made him and has planned every detail of his life (vv. 13-18). We are "fearfully and wonderfully made." The intricacies of the human body are endless and wonderful in the way in which they (generally) work together to keep us alive, active and well. The complexity of the human brain continues to defy our complete understanding – someone has made the claim that the human brain is the most complex object in the entire universe. God designed and fashioned it all. David uses homely language to describe how God fashioned us, and knew all about us, when we were in our mother's womb; God knew of our existence before our mother was even aware that she was bearing a child. And, at that point, says David, "all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (v. 16). Again, God's knowledge of us and the intricacy of his care for us are beyond our comprehension. But we may be assured that when the last of those earthly days ordained for us is past, "when I awake, I am still with you" (v. 18).

To speak in theological terms for a moment, David has spoken of God's omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. But this creates a problem. If God knows everything and is all powerful, why does he allow evil to continue seemingly unabated in his world? (vv. 19-21). This psalm does not offer an answer to this troubling question but does assure that the Lord Jesus who endured the cruellest of suffering at the hands of evil men is with us by his Spirit in every situation we face. More than that, the Scriptures assure us that the day is coming when evil will be no more. When Jesus returns he will complete his work of new creation and we will live and reign with him in a world marked by righteousness and peace.

Triune God, you know my heart and my anxious thoughts. Help me by your Spirit to know, delight and rest in your constant presence with me and loving embrace around me in every circumstance and moment of my life.

Dec 15 2020 - Revelation 6:1-17 – How long, Sovereign Lord?

In our reading this morning, the first six of the seven seals are opened. With the opening of the first four seals we have the appearance of ‘the four horses of the apocalypse’ (reflecting something of the imagery of Zechariah 1:8-17; 6:1-8). Here, the horses are pictures of war and conflict which ravage the earth and which anticipate the judgment of God. The white horse with its mounted archer would remind John’s readers of the fearsome Parthian archers, who in AD 62 (as well as in 53 and 35 BC) came riding from the east and won victories against the Romans. They were famed and dreaded cavalrymen and skilled mounted archers whose armies included sacred white horses.

The second red horse pictures the slaughter of war. The third black horse pictures the consequence of war with food shortages meaning that most can scarcely buy enough food to survive. Yet at the same time, luxury goods such as oil and wine are unaffected. There are those who profit from war; they live well and in luxury while the many starve. The last pale horse is death, with Hades following close behind.

This is the world in which John’s readers were living, a violent, unjust and uncertain world in which the Pax Romanum (the peace which Roman rule claimed to provide), was beginning to break down. At the same time, Christians, as so often in times of conflict, faced the threat of persecution. And it’s in this context that we read of the opening of the fifth seal, at which John sees those who have been killed for the sake of the gospel gathered by an altar – the reminder of the Lamb who had given his life for his people. They are crying out "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (Revelation 6:10). Their cry echoes similar cries in the Psalms, and in Zechariah 1:12 where we hear God's people crying out, "How long...?"

We live in a world where many sad things happen and where many evil things happen. It’s a world marked by conflict, injustice and the lust for power. It’s a world in which God’s people are often persecuted and crushed. If God is really in control, if Jesus really is Lord, why does he allow such things to go on? Why does he not step in to put a stop to them? Why does he not come to put the world to rights? The Book of Revelation tells us that God will come to put the world to rights; a day will come when "There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (21:4). The opening of the sixth seal foreshadows the coming day of judgment.

But why not now? Our cry “How long?” is a plea not merely for Christians to be saved from persecution; it’s a cry for an end to a world of injustice, pain and death. The unfastening of the seals reminds us that God is in control of history and that he is working out his purposes as year succeeds to year – even if that is not always apparent to us. The day will come when injustice shall be no more. In the midst of our cries and tears, we can trust him.

Lord God, many things I hear in the news make me cry out, “Sovereign Lord, how long?” I am deeply disturbed by the pain and injustice of this world and long for you to come and put it all to rights. But then, I recognise that there is much also that is wrong with me. Make me, I pray, more the person you would have me be that I might be a living witness to the transformation that shall make all things new at your coming.

Peter Misselbrook