Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 18 2013 - Mark 3:7-30 – Tamed thunder

This morning we have read of Jesus choosing the twelve who will form his inner circle. Jesus will devote his time to them, teaching them and sending them out to minister in his name. Two of these are James and John, sons of Zebedee. Jesus gives them the name "sons of thunder" – the thunder boys (Mark 3:17). We see something of the character that earned them this name when they wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan town that had failed to welcome Jesus when he was on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:50-55). They were fiery characters who were ready to respond with thunder (and lightning) towards those who opposed them.

Yet it is an entirely transformed character that we see later in John the apostle. John lived on into old age and when he was no longer able to speak at length, he would continue to exhort Christians with the words, "Little children, love one another." The whole of 1 John breathes this spirit:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  (1 John 4:9-12)

What accounts for this remarkable change in the character of John? His character had been transformed through being with Jesus. He had seen a different spirit in Jesus. Jesus had rebuked him when he had wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans. Jesus had not called for legions of angels to rescue him from his false accusers. Jesus had submitted to the agony of the cross crying out, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." John had seen the love of God in the person of the Lord whom he loved. And that same spirit/Spirit had reshaped his life. He had been transformed by Christ – by the love of God in Christ. And now he lives to proclaim to others what he has seen and heard and touched; to proclaim the love of God that changes everything and can alone offer hope and cleansing to a fractured world.

We see the same story in the transformation of Saul the Pharisee into Paul the apostle. Saul was an angry Pharisee on his way to Damascus planning the imprisonment, trial and perhaps even the deaths of Christians he could find in that city. He wanted them to suffer the same fate as Steven. But the risen Saviour encountered him on the road and his life was turned around. The notion of a crucified Messiah which had once seemed blasphemy to him now filled him with wonder: “The Son of God …loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). His passion was tamed and redirected into becoming a passion for Christ and for the Gospel; a passion to see the whole world acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord and rejoice in the wonder of God’s transforming love.

Discipleship is the call to continual transformation as we learn of Christ and are refashioned into his likeness by his Spirit.

Living God, subdue my thunder by your love and redirect my passion to serve the Risen Saviour who gave his life for me. And by your Spirit, enable me to bring something of your love and peace to those whose thunder still threatens to tear apart our troubled world.

Feb 18 2019 - Exodus 7:25-8:32 – Frogs, gnats and flies

One plague follows upon another, but still Pharaoh hardens his heart against the Lord's demand to let his people go. The whole of Egypt is crawling – or more accurately, hopping – with frogs. Again the Egyptian sorcerers manage to add to the plague rather than providing any relief from it. The frogs have even entered the royal palace and hopped into Pharaoh's bed. It is clear that Pharaoh no longer has authority over his own palace; he is losing control.

Pharaoh knows that this is the work of the God of Moses and so he summons Moses and Aaron asking them to pray to the Lord and ask for the frogs to be taken away. Moses appears to restore something of Pharaoh's authority in allowing him to nominate when he wishes the frogs to be removed. However, this is in fact a further demonstration of God's power; the God who sent this plague is alone able to control when it will be removed.

When the frogs died their rotting bodies filled the land with the smell of death and Pharaoh again hardened his heart and refused to let the Israelites go. So the air is now filled with gnats. This is too much for the Egyptian sorcerers who tell Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God"; they acknowledge that they are up against a power which exceeds all of their own magic arts. It is not Moses or Aaron who have done these things, the supreme God has done them by his own hand and by his incomparable power. Despite their warning, Pharaoh still will not listen.

The gnats are followed by swarms of flies. God again demonstrates that this plague is not some chance event but is an act of his own judgment. He does this by discriminating between the land occupied by the Egyptians and that occupied by his people. The Egyptians are plagued with flies while the Israelites are left unmolested. The mighty God who has done this is clearly the God of the Israelites.

Thus far, we have focussed on the way the plagues were designed to convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians of the power of the living God. But we should not forget that they were also to convince the enslaved Israelites of God's power to save them. After Moses' first confrontation with Pharaoh, the Israelites burden had been increased and they had told Moses that all he had done was to put a sword in Pharaoh's hand to kill them (5:21). God now clearly distinguishes between his people and the Egyptians (8:23). God's acts of power will crush the Egyptians but will save his people. The Israelites can see this process already at work.

Pharaoh is weakening and is ready to compromise. He suggests that the Israelites can have a holiday from their work and celebrate a festival of worship to their God within the land of Egypt. Moses is uncompromising; the Israelites must take a three-day journey into the desert to worship God. Pharaoh concedes; the people may go into the desert to worship as long as they do not go very far. Pharaoh sends Moses away to pray that the plague of flies may cease. But as soon as the flies are gone, Pharaoh hardens his heart again and will not let the Israelites go.

As we saw in the last reading from Exodus, those who resist God's purposes do so to their own hurt and the hurt of those around them. It is a dangerous thing to stand against the living God or to seek to strike bargains with him.

"No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. Who should not fear you?" Precious Saviour, I thank you that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to you. Help me to trust in your saving power and never doubt that you are with me. Help me also to watch over my own heart and to fear the sin of rebellion that may so easily lead me away from walking humbly with you.

Peter Misselbrook