Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 17 2013 - Mark 2:13-3:6 – I have not come to call the righteous

Levi was a tax collector for the Roman government. No doubt he was sitting in his tax collector's booth beside the road in order to charge taxes on those bringing goods into the town to trade. Jesus called Levi to become one of his followers and that's just what Levi did. More than that, he threw a party to celebrate the fact that he had become a follower of Jesus. Jesus and his disciples were there; so also were Levi's friends – fellow tax collectors and other social outcasts. When the Pharisees saw what was going on they presented their accusation against Jesus in the form of a question to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Mark 2:16). Overhearing their accusation, Jesus responded, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (2:17).

In his book, What's So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey writes of the way in which Jesus attracted "sinners" and was comfortable in their company. He comments that this is often not the case with the church today. He recounts talking with a woman who had got herself into deep trouble and whose life was in a terrible mess. He had asked her whether she had turned to the church for help and had received the caustic reply, “They are the last people I would turn to.” She had feared that she would be despised and judged rather than being embraced and helped.

On a Sunday morning a few years ago I was speaking in the church we attended. I had been leading a series on the church and on that Sunday morning was speaking on the subject of the church being there for others. One young woman came into the church that morning for the first time. She seemed a little worse-for-wear and, as the service started, she took a bottle of wine from a plastic bag, poured some of the contents into a coffee mug and began to drink. Someone suggested to her that this was not an appropriate way to behave in a church service. Loudly protesting that we all drank wine in church at our communion services, she got up and walked out. Thankfully, someone accompanied her outside and spent some time talking with her, but I could not help but feel the incongruity of the situation. Isn’t there something wrong with the structure of our churches if we cannot accommodate those in real need? Who is the church for?

I recognise that these questions are not as simple as they seem. The church is more than meetings for worship on a Sunday. The one-to-one conversation in the church porch may have been more appropriate for this needy lady than her continued and disruptive presence in the service. But I wonder what she felt about the church that morning as she walked away to finish off her bottle of wine. What would have happened if someone had shared a little of the wine with her on the church steps – and perhaps a broken biscuit or two?

I don’t think that I have any clever answers to these questions, but I am left with the feeling that we, the followers of the Lord Jesus, had failed to welcome sinners and eat with them.

Lord God, I recognise that I have much more to learn from the Lord Jesus. I recognise also that I would prefer order and tranquillity in the company of respectable friends to the disruption and demand of those whose lives are in a mess. Help me to follow Christ even when it means leaving the security of my comfort zone. I recognise my own weakness. Strengthen me by your Spirit and help me to respond wisely and well to those in need of your transforming power.

Feb 17 2019 - Psalm 19 – The word of the Lord

Psalm 19 declares that God reveals his character to us through the two great books he has written for our learning, the Book of Nature (or Creation) and the Book of Scripture.

The universe around us displays God's glory, greatness and power, from the immensity of space with all its stars and galaxies to the intricacy of the smallest sea creatures and on to the wonder of the atoms from which all things are made. Creation speaks of the greatness of its Creator and of the wisdom and inexhaustible knowledge of him who made it all and delights in it all.

But in a fallen world we easily come to mistaken conclusions about God. We see poverty, disease, pain and death and we ask, "Does God see and care?" The world around us is twisted out of shape and our fallen reading of it is blurred and distorted. The universe is not self-interpreting.

That is why God has revealed himself in the Scriptures. He has spoken to us that he might make himself known. As Isaac Watts put it in quaint English some three centuries ago:

The heavens declare thy glory, Lord,
in ev'ry star thy wisdom shines;
but when our eyes behold thy Word,
we read thy Name in fairer lines.

The rolling sun, the changing light,
and nights and days thy pow'r confess;
but the blest volume thou hast writ
reveals thy justice and thy grace…

John Calvin spoke of the way in which we need the spectacles of Scripture to see the world in right perspective. It is when we read the world through the eyes of this book that we see God's glory and grace displayed throughout creation and see all that we were made to be.

In the Scriptures we have treasures more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey. We have God's law which is a reflection of his own holy character. But this serves only to condemn our unholy characters and would drive us to despair. Isaac Watts rewrote the metrical psalms, the hymns sung by Christians in his day, so that they went beyond their Old Testament context to reflect the additional revelation that has come to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. So his hymn continues:

Thy noblest wonders here we view
in souls renewed and sins forgiv'n;
Lord, cleanse my sins, my soul renew,
and make Thy Word my guide to heav'n.

We rejoice that God has done more than warn of the consequences of straying from his commandment, he has provided us with a Saviour through whom all our transgressions are forgiven. Jesus has redeemed us through his shed blood and has brought us back into fellowship with God our Creator. He is rock on which we stand secure.

But grace does not nullify the demands of God's holy law, rather it enables us to fulfil the righteous requirements of the law through the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ within us. So we echo the words of the psalmist, "Keep your servant … from wilful sins; may they not rule over me."

Father God, give me eyes to see your glory revealed through this world that you have made and especially in people whom you have created in your own image. May I always take great delight in your word and especially in the Lord Jesus Christ, the word incarnate. Help me always to follow him and to live by his power. "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart always be pleasing in your sight, Lord my Rock and my Redeemer."

Peter Misselbrook