Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 28 2019 - Exodus 17:1-16 – Water and victory

Water is even more essential to human survival than bread and quails. You can survive for many days without food but for only a very few days without water in a hot and dry land. The Israelites would have been travelling from one water source to another, but when they camped at Rephidim no water could be found. Again they soon complain against Moses and against God saying, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" (v. 3).

The problems are too great for Moses (see his complaint in v. 4), but nothing is impossible for the Lord. Moses is told to take in his hand the staff with which he struck the waters of the Nile. This staff is later called "the staff of God" (v. 9). It is not some magic wand with which Moses can perform magic tricks. This is the staff of God. It is the symbol of God's presence with them and his power which is active on their behalf. By the use of this staff, God makes it plain to both Moses and the children of Israel that he, the living God, is acting to help and to bless them. This staff had been used to display God's power before Pharaoh; it had been used to part the Red Sea and to restore its waters. Now it will be used to provide the Israelites with fresh water in the desert.

Moses is commanded by God to strike the rock. Water flowed from it for the people and their animals to drink. All of this happened at a place called Massah and Meribah. Massah speaks of God's testing of his people – would they trust him or would they fear that they would die of thirst. Meribah speaks of their complaint and quarrelling against God – they failed the test. This incident is picked up later in Psalm 95 which urges God's people:

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
 ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
    they tried me, though they had seen what I did.   (Psalm 95:7-9)

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews again picks up this incident, quoting the verses from Psalm 95 and urging Christians to remember God's promises, go on listening to God's voice and not to turn back from following Christ (see Hebrews 3:7-12).

The second half of today's passage tells the story of the Amalekites' attack on the Israelites. Moses stood on a hill overlooking the battle with the staff of God in his hand. While his hands were raised the Israelites would begin to win the battle but when his arms grew tired and he let them drop the Amalekites began to gain the upper hand. Aaron and Hur therefore stood on either side of Moses supporting his arms. So the Israelites won the battle.

Again, we should not think that there was anything magical about Moses' arms. He has the staff of God in his hands. While he stretches out the staff of God towards the battlefield he is, in symbol, extending God's power over the battle. Moses' hands, lifted in prayer, connect with the very throne of the Lord (v. 16). Prayer connects with the power that governs the universe and that God has covenanted to use for the protection and blessing of his people.

We who come to God in prayer through the Lord Jesus Christ also come before his throne of grace and connect with the gracious power that rules the world and ensures the fulfilment of his promises.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the victory that is ours in Christ; "we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." Help us always to trust in you and the promises of your presence with us and protection of us. Open our ears, Lord Jesus, to hear your call upon our lives that we might be kept from bitterness and resentment when the path before us seems dark and dry. Keep us constant in prayer and joyful in tribulation, for the sake of your name and your glory.

Feb 28 2013 - Mark 9:30-10:12 – Greatness

As Jesus is walking with his disciples through Galilee on the way to Capernaum, he talks to them of how he will be put to death but will rise again on the third day. We are told that they do not understand what he is talking about. The extent of their failure to understand their master becomes clear in the hot debate they are having behind his back; they are arguing with one another as to who shall be the greatest.

The desire for power is natural to us. When God created human beings he gave them authority to rule over all that he had made. The problems occur when we seek to rule over one another and when we seek to reorder our world so that it serves our own ends. It becomes a recipe for conflict, destruction and disaster.

Jesus came to demonstrate a new model of Lordship; a new model of leadership. And yet those who were closest to him seem to have been very slow to understand. I am reminded of Jesus' words to Philip, recorded in John 14:9, "Don't you know me ... even after I have been among you such a long time?"

Jesus tells the disciples, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35). To be a disciple is to learn from and become like one's master. Jesus, the Lord of glory, came into this world to lay down his life for us. We follow him not as we seek power and recognition, not as we seek to dominate others and bend them to our will, but as we serve others and give ourselves to their blessing and flourishing.

But it is part of the paradox of the gospel that it not only humbles the proud, it also dignifies the humble. Jesus took a child in his arms and said, "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me" (9:37).

The child, no more than the adult, is naturally submissive – the point is not to admire the child. Jesus is challenging his disciples concerning the way we attribute status and worth to ourselves and to others. In the first century, a child was not regarded as a significant person. They had the lowest place in the social pecking order. Jesus encourages his disciples to have time for those that society thinks unimportant or insignificant. No one was insignificant in the eyes of the Lord Jesus and none should be viewed as without worth in the eyes of his disciples. In addition, he suggests that his disciples should be happy to lack recognition by others. The humble find in Christ's embrace that they are made children of the living God. Surely this is status enough!

The kingdom of God turns the values of this world upside down.

My soul glorifies the Lord
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant...
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble. (Luke 1:48-48, 51-52)

Heavenly Father, thank you that, through the humble sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, I have been made a child of the living God and a member of your kingdom. Help me to learn of Christ and to have no ambition beyond that of following him and serving him. Keep me from treating anyone as insignificant or not worthy of my attention. Help me to be ready to serve others in Jesus’ name and to give myself to their encouragement and blessing.

Peter Misselbrook