Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 15 2013 - Mark 1:1-28 – Turn, turn, turn

Mark begins his account of Jesus in an abrupt, no-nonsense style, "The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). The rest of his book will unpack this claim. It starts (or almost starts) with the declaration of God himself, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (1:11). At the centre of his Gospel is the confession of Peter, “You are the Christ” (8:29). And at the end (or almost the end), Mark records how even a Gentile, a hardened Roman centurion acknowledges, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" (15:39).

Mark begins with a brief account of John the Baptist. He is introduced with a quotation from Isaiah 40;

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God... (Isaiah 40:3)

In its original context, these words from Isaiah are addressed to the exiles in Babylon. It is part of an announcement that God's judgment upon Israel is coming to an end and that he is about to come and save them. Just as God had previously rescued Israel from Egypt and brought them through the desert to the land he had promised them, so now he will rescue them again and bring them into their inheritance.

... Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:4-5)

John has come as the herald of an even greater salvation. He calls everyone to repent and get ready for the arrival of God their Saviour. He calls them to turn around and face the coming King. He also tells them that he is only the warm-up act. He can only baptise with water, but the one coming after him will baptise with the Holy Spirit. With his coming, they will know the powerful presence of the living God.

As I read these words, the picture of a post mill sprang to mind. A post mill is an old fashioned windmill. But it is one built on an enormous post, made from the trunk of a tree. The whole of the wooden building is able to rotate around the post so that the vanes face into the wind and are able make use of its power. And it is the wind itself that causes the mill to rotate around the post – that continually nudges it one way or another to face the wind. If the mechanism becomes clogged and refuses to turn, the mill will end up without power.

John calls his hearers to repentance – to a life turned around to face God. And is only as they turn to face the coming Saviour that they will receive power from the wind of his Spirit, enabling them to enjoy the life of the kingdom and do the work of the King.

Repentance is a continual necessity in the Christian life. We need continually to turn away from ourselves and turn towards the Saviour. We need continually to be nudged by the Spirit to turn and face God and receive the power of his Spirit energising us for the work he has for us to do.

Awake, O Lord, as in the time of old!
Come, Holy Spirit, in Thy power and might;
For lack of Thee our hearts are strangely cold,
Our minds but blindly groping towards the light…

Turn us, good Lord, and so shall we be turned:
Let every passion grieving Thee be stilled…

Make us to be what we profess to be;
Let prayer be prayer, and praise be heartfelt praise;
From unreality, O set us free,
And let our words be echoed by our ways.

Feb 15 2019 - Exodus 6:1-12 – God's promise of freedom

Moses' first appeal to Pharaoh to let the Israelites go had proved a miserable failure. Pharaoh had not only scornfully refused Moses' demand, he had increased the burden on the Israelite slaves. The Israelites had complained to Moses and Moses had complained to God.

In today's passage we read the Lord's response to Moses' complaint. "Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country’" (6:1).

In effect, the Lord is saying, "Did you really think that the Israelites would be released from their slavery just because you told Pharaoh that this is what I was demanding? No, you will not manage to free them by the force of your personality or the strength of your demands. I, the Lord, am the one who will come and rescue my people by my own power. When the Israelites are released, no-one will be in any doubt that you are not the one who has done it. It will be clear that I the living God have broken Pharaoh's power." Moses' initial demand and Pharaoh's initial response were just preparation for the real battle to come – like boxers facing up to one another ahead of their match and making all manner of threats. The posturing is now over and the real battle is about to begin; not a battle between Moses and Pharaoh but between Yahweh the living God and Pharaoh and the so called gods of Egypt.

God then reminds Moses of who he is. He is the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God who made promises to these men and who has revealed himself as God Almighty; nothing can prevent him from keeping his promises. Now he has revealed that his name is Yahweh, the God of the covenant who will be with his people to do all he has promised. He has heard the Israelites' groans and has come down to save them.

Moses is to go to the Israelites with this message from God, "I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD" (6:6-8).

Notice the repeated "I" in these verses. The emphasis is all upon what the Lord himself will do precisely because he is the LORD, Yahweh, their God. The rescue of the Israelites from Egypt will be a powerful demonstration that their God is like no other; he is the living God who hears and acts to save his people and bring them to live with him.

Despite these words, the Israelites do not believe Moses, nor is Moses keen on renewed confrontation with Pharaoh. Their experience of past failure makes them reluctant now to trust God and to take him at his word.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the living God who has not been content to leave us in slavery to sin. God has seen our plight and has come down to rescue us by his own power through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can trust him to do for us all that he has promised. We need not allow our own experience of failure to turn us away from trust in God.

Almighty God, I thank you that you save by your own power and are not limited by the failures of your people. Since you did not spare your own Son but gave him up for us all, fill us with the assurance that nothing will ever separate us from your love. You will be faithful to all your promises and will bring us safe to glory.

Peter Misselbrook