Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 25 2013 - Mark 7:24-8:10 – More than crumbs from the table

The story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is simply wonderful. The woman had a daughter who was suffering with some form of disabling condition, believed to be caused by demon possession. Hearing that Jesus was in the area she came to find him. Falling at his feet she asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus seems to dismiss her request with sharp words; "First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs" (Mark 7:27). But she immediately responds, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs" (7:28). Jesus is pleased with her response and sends her away with the assurance that her daughter is healed.

The quick and playful response of this woman not only pleased Jesus, it evidently delighted and amused the disciples who later recalled what she had said. But why did Jesus seem reluctant to help this woman? Maybe his words were intended to test the woman's faith; was she sufficiently convinced of Jesus' ability to heal that she would not be willing to be turned aside from her purpose of gaining healing for her daughter?

But there may also be a clue  in the opening words of Jesus, "First let the children eat ..." These words express the priority of Jesus' ministry while also leaving the door open to the possibility that others may also gain a blessing from him – a door which is eagerly pushed wide open by this needy mother. During his earthly ministry, Jesus is concerned to bring the message of the kingdom to the lost sheep of Israel. He does this not because he lacks concern for those outside the bounds of his own people, but precisely because he is concerned for the whole world. It is from these sons of Abraham that, in due course, the gospel will be taken to the nations.

Paul expresses this same priority when he writes, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile" (Romans 1:17). The same theme is to be found at the beginning of John's Gospel, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:11-12).

The priority in Jesus' ministry was with the Jews; he comes as their promised Messiah. But, praise God, it does not end there; he is the Saviour of the world. The blessings Jesus brings are for whoever will come to him. Indeed, he gives us more than the crumbs that drop from his table, he bids us welcome to a feast of delights:

Come, all you who are thirsty,
   come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
   and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
   and you will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:1-2)

In Christ we enjoy a feast of blessings that are beyond all expectation and deserving: sins forgiven; adoption into God’s family; the gift of the Spirit; the freedom to come before the Creator of the universe in prayer and know that we are heard; being part of the fellowship of God’s people; the promise of eternal life and the renewal of all creation – and much more besides. What a feast of good things!

Father, I readily confess that I am not worthy to receive so much as the crumbs that fall from your table, yet you have given me a place in the marriage supper of the Lamb. I feast with joy on the Lord Jesus Christ and on all the blessings I have in him. Help me to encourage others to come to the banquet and share in the feast.

Feb 25 2019 - Exodus 13:20-14:31 – Crossing the Red Sea

It is vital that the Children of Israel know who has brought them out of captivity in Egypt and who is leading them to the Promised Land. It is not Moses, it is the Lord himself. This is made clear to the Israelites through a visible symbol of the Lord's presence; a pillar of fire and smoke which never left its place at the head of the party of travellers. By this means the Lord led them in the way they were to go, taking them towards the Red Sea.

We are also called to be a pilgrim people; a people led by God towards the inheritance he has promised us. His presence with us may not be visible in a pillar of fire and smoke, but it is none-the-less real. He leads us by his word and by his Spirit. His word sheds light upon our path and directs our steps. His Spirit reminds us that Jesus is with us, shows us his glory and calls us to follow him.

But Pharaoh and his officials soon decided that they must have their slave labour back. Pharaoh sent out his great army of chariots, horsemen and troops to pursue them and drag them back to Egypt. Meanwhile, the Lord led his people to make camp at a point where they have the sea in front of them and Egypt behind them.

The Israelites are terrified as they see the army approaching. They have nowhere to go. They are convinced that they will now die in the desert; it would have been better to remain as slaves in Egypt. But Moses tells them, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still" (14:13-14). They need not panic, nor will they have to fight for their lives, the Lord will save them. They need only trust the Lord and watch what he will do.

The Lord tells Moses to get the people moving on towards the sea. The pillar of fire and of cloud then moved from before them to behind them. The Lord stands between his people and the Egyptians, giving light to the one and darkness to the other and keeping the two armies apart. At the Lord's command, Moses raised his staff and stretched it out over the sea. The waters of the sea are driven back by a strong wind so that the Israelites could cross on dry ground with a wall of water to their left and to their right.

As the Egyptians follow the Israelites through the sea, their chariot wheels get bogged down in the soft ground and the army is in confusion. Again, at the Lord's command, Moses stretches his staff over the sea. This time the waters roll back and the entire army of Pharaoh is drowned.

"That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant" (14:30-31) – well, at least for a while.

God not only breaks the powers that enslaved his people, he destroys them. His people need only to trust him and they/we shall see his saving power and have cause to sing his praises. He is with his people and he places himself as a guard between them and those who threaten to destroy them.

Lord God, I often wish that you would lead me visibly as you did the Israelites. Help me to trust the promises of your word and to know that you are with me by your Spirit. Make plain to me the path that I should tread and help me to follow faithfully in the footsteps of my Saviour. Help me to see that the very situations that seem to threaten me are opportunities for you to display your saving power. You have placed your Son between me and those forces which threaten me; you have worked for my protection and their destruction. There is nothing that can separate me from your love towards me in Christ Jesus. I rejoice in your salvation.

Peter Misselbrook