Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 2 2013 - Matthew 22:1-33 – Render unto Caesar

The Pharisees sought to trick Jesus by asking him whether they should pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus' reply is well known; "Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s" (Matthew 22:21).

Jesus is not saying that God and Caesar occupy separate domains and that we must try to work out which part of our lives is to be lived out under Caesar’s rule and which part under the rule of God. All of creation belongs to God and there is no part of its life which he does not claim as his own. Through his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, Jesus has been declared King of kings and Lord of lords. Human government is God's idea; it is part of the dominion which he has entrusted to men and women who are made in his image. God is pleased when human society is well-ordered; when wrongdoing is punished and those who do good are rewarded – when it is governed in a way that reflects his own gracious rule.

Christians, therefore, are to be good citizens – the very best of citizens. Our giving to "Caesar" what is Caesar's is part of our giving to God what is God's. This has implications regarding the paying of our taxes, compliance with speed limits and every other aspect of civil obedience. Moreover, we are to pray for those in positions of civil government and to support them in their God-given task. And if we pray that there might be more Christians in such positions of influence and service, might we not also consider whether God is calling us to be an answer to our own prayers.

In a fallen world, however, human government may set itself up against God. There are times when giving God what is his due will involve resistance to civil authority, passive resistance or active resistance. The apostles were ready to be beaten and imprisoned rather than deny the gospel. Many today suffer at the hands of oppressive governments for the sake of the gospel – and many others simply suffer oppression.

We should not be concerned only about the oppression suffered by Christians. We are called to speak out against the evils of our day and to act to defend those who are treated unjustly whoever and wherever they may be, for they also are made in the image of God. And as God gives us strength, we are also to be agents of change in a broken world, working to ensure that government – wherever it may be and whatever its political colour – lives up to its God-given calling to protect, nurture, value and respect those whom it governs. 

Jesus' response to the trick question of the Pharisees is easy to remember. Applying his teaching in the complex world in which we live is not always easy. On the one hand, we need to avoid the error of insisting that civil government give a privileged place to Christian belief – campaigning for the return of Christendom. On the other hand, we need equally to avoid the error of thinking that the Christian faith has nothing to do with politics and civil government – that it is about other-worldly spirituality. And above all, Christians need to model the kind of society that will commend itself to those who do not share our faith; even to those who are antagonistic to it.

Heavenly Father, I pray for all those in positions of authority in national and local government. I pray that they may be more concerned for the welfare of those they govern than for their own position and power. May they be characterised by a servant spirit. But I pray also for those in positions of leadership in your church that they may follow the example of the Great Shepherd of the sheep. May your people, filled with your Spirit and living under reign of the Jesus Christ, act as the supreme example of the happy kingdom. Help us to be the envy of the world.

Feb 2 2019 - Genesis 41:1-43 – Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dreams

Pharaoh had disturbing dreams and all his magicians and wise men were unable to interpret them. At last, his cupbearer remembers Joseph and, to his shame, the request Joseph had made of him two years earlier. When Pharaoh is told how Joseph interpreted the dreams of his officials he calls for him to be brought to court. After a wash and shave, Joseph appears before Pharaoh.

Again, Joseph makes no claim to be able to interpret dreams by his own power, but he is confident that God can reveal their meaning. So the strange dreams are told to Joseph and he in turn tells Pharaoh their meaning. Joseph tells Pharaoh that God has been gracious in revealing what is about to happen; seven years of abundant harvests will be followed by seven years of famine.

Joseph has done all that was asked of him, but he has more to say. Also, no doubt, at the prompting of the Lord, this foreign prisoner has the temerity to advise Pharaoh of what he should do. He should appoint a wise and trustworthy official to supervise the collection and storage of the excess grain during the years of plenty so that there is food for the people during the years of famine. Pharaoh and all his court immediately recognise the wisdom of this suggestion and that Joseph possesses wisdom given him by God that makes him the most suitable person to take on this great responsibility.

Joseph has been raised up from prison to sit among princes; he has become a great and powerful man in Egypt. He set about building granaries in every city in Egypt to store away grain from the years of plenty so that when the famine came he might be able to provide for the needs of the people. The chapter ends by telling us that, "all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth" (41:57).

Joseph was a man who knew God. Despite all the troubles that had come his way, he had not become resentful of God nor had he turned away from him. Rather, he had trusted God, grown in character and had gained wisdom by learning from God. With God, there are no wasted years; only years of preparation for new areas of service. God had been preparing this young man to be the means through which he would bring blessing to all the needy peoples of the earth. God's promise to Abraham is being fulfilled.

But let me take you back for a moment to verse 42 where we read, "Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain round his neck." What does that remind you of? It reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son and the way in which the waiting father treats his returning son. In Christ, God has blessed us with riches and status beyond that enjoyed by Joseph. We have been lifted out of imprisonment to sin, clothed in garments of righteousness and given the status of children of the living God. We have the promise that we will reign with Christ over all that he has created.

Loving Father, your word tells me that, "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope" (Romans 5:3). But I am so often preoccupied with my own comfort rather than your kingdom that the merest discomfort produces dissatisfaction, resentment and bitterness. Lift my eyes and enlarge my vision that I may see and understand all that you have given me in the Lord Jesus Christ. Give me delight in submitting to your will and serving you faithfully wherever you may place me. Enable me to bring your blessing to those in need.

Peter Misselbrook