Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 24 2013 - Mark 7:1-23 – The inside out life

Jesus tells the Jewish leaders that their preoccupation with ceremonial purity is an exercise in missing the point. A person is not made unholy by contact with something "unclean". Holiness begins with the inner life. It flows from a living relationship with God and a desire and determination to live to please him. The quality of that inner life is then displayed in the things we say and do: "For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person" (Mark 7:21-23). Holiness flows from the inside out.

In this, Jesus was not saying anything new. Proverbs 4:23 expresses the same thought when it says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it."

How does one guard the heart? I'm really not an expert on this question; in this matter I am conscious that I am still very much a learner. Nevertheless, I would suggest that guarding the heart requires firstly that we are honest with ourselves about the state of our hearts. We need to know ourselves and to be conscious of the way our inward thoughts and desires can lead us away from the life God wants us to live. Secondly, we need to learn to depend upon God and his Spirit for the help and strength we need to put the inner seeds of sin to death before they grow out of control (see James 1:14-15). When wrong thoughts arise, we need to turn immediately to Christ for help in subduing them. Above all, we need to maintain a strong and continual focus upon Christ – a delight in the glory of all that he is and a desire to grow in likeness to him: "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

We also need to remember that, while holiness begins with the inner life, it is not to be an individualistic preoccupation. We are to encourage one another in holiness – spur one another on in following Christ. Paul encourages such growth among the Christians in Ephesus when he writes, "Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Ephesians 4:15-16). We are to grow together into what God has called us to be in Christ. Then we will, "no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking" (4:17). Holiness is to be a corporate preoccupation.

Finally, we need always to remember that God's purpose is for us to be holy (like Christ), for the sake of the world. We must be careful that the desire for holiness does not separate us from the world around us in the wrong sense; that it does not encourage us to keep ourselves in our own holy huddle. We want to be like Jesus: the one who lived to bring the blessing of God to others; the one who came to bring the transforming power of God to those whose lives were broken and damaged. Holiness needs to make us like Jesus, not like the Pharisees.

Lord Jesus, by your Spirit continue the work you have begun within me to make me like you. Help me also to be a fertilising influence within the fellowship of your people promoting strong growth, beautiful flowering and generous fruitfulness. So may we bring your healing and transforming presence to those around us.

Feb 24 2019 - Psalm 22 – Why have you forsaken me

The psalm is entitled "A psalm of David", but other than that we are uncertain of its origin. But we know that David was no stranger to trouble. Before he became king, King Saul sought his life and pursued him with armies. After he became king he had to flee Jerusalem from Absalom his son who had supplanted him as king. These or any number of other difficulties may have given rise to this psalm of complaint.

David is a man of faith who has trusted in God from his earliest years (vv. 9-10). He knows that God is still enthroned as the Holy One who saved his people of old (vv. 3-5). But David feels abandoned. He feels himself to be more like a worm, trodden under foot, than a man. He is the object of scorn and mockery by others (vv. 6-8, vv. 12-18). So David pleads that God may come to his aid (vv. 11, 19-21). If only God would rescue him it would lead to praise of God not only from David but also from God's people generally (vv. 22-26), and even from all peoples on earth (vv. 27-31).

But right at the moment, David feels that God is far away from him and cries out in agony of soul, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (v.1a).

The psalm expresses the mystery and pain of unanswered prayer. We have all experienced times when we are in desperate need of God's help for ourselves or for others whom we love. We have come to God at such a time in earnest prayer, seeking for his help. And at times it has felt to us that God is not listening. Those who do not know God may mock our prayers and our expectation of divine help, but we know that God is sovereign and that there is no limit to his power; we have experienced his help and blessing in the past. But right now that knowledge, far from encouraging us, seems to join in mocking our prayers. We end up perplexed and sometimes in despair.

There are no slick answers to the mystery of unanswered prayer. But I want to take you from David's words of complaint to the those of David's Greater Son. As he hung upon the cross Jesus cried out to his Father using the words of this psalm, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46).

I am sure that it was not just the opening words of Psalm 22 Jesus had in his mind; he saw the whole psalm as prophetic of all that he was now suffering. He may have had verse 15 in mind when he cried out, "I thirst!" Certainly verses 16-19 describe what happened to him in his crucifixion. Jesus appeared to have been forsaken by God and felt himself forsaken.

The mystery of unanswered prayer, of our unanswered prayer, should take us to the foot of the cross. Here God seemed deaf to the cries of his own Son – he is a God who hides himself. But the cross is also the place where unanswered prayer finds its resolution, for the cry of Psalm 22 does find an answer. Verses 19-21 are answered by Jesus resurrection from the dead; the cry of dereliction becomes a cry of victory. His triumph over death is celebrated by his people and shall, one day, be celebrated by all the peoples of the world "They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!" (v. 31). It is because of Christ's resurrection that we can be assured that though our prayers may not be answered now, in the end all shall be well.

Father God we thank you for the many times when you have heard and answered our prayers. But we praise you supremely for the Lord Jesus Christ who has gathered up the pain of all our unanswered prayer to himself in his cry of dereliction from the cross. Thank you that his resurrection provides us with the absolute assurance that the day will come when all our prayers and longings will be answered. We long for that day when you will wipe all tears from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for all things shall be made new.

Peter Misselbrook