Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 3 2013 - Matthew 22:34-23:12 – Everything they do is done for people to see

Jesus is scathing in his criticism of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. "Everything they do is done for people to see", he says. They are hypocrites; they put on a good show, but behind the image they project there is no corresponding reality. Much of what they teach is good, and is worthy of attention, but they do not practice what they preach.

This is a common human failing. In many contexts and organisations there will be those who love to lay down the law for others but seem to feel that they do not need to live by these rules themselves. They place burdens on others which they are reluctant to share and show little concern to relieve. Such behaviour stems from the conviction that they are an elite; they stand apart from hoi polloi. Others are there to serve their needs.

The scribes and Pharisees were characterised by a love of such status. They wanted other people to recognise who and what they were – at least on the outside. They loved their elaborate clothing which declared, "here's someone special, a religious bigwig, show him due deference." They loved to be given the place of honour at feasts and festivals where they could be seen and noticed. They loved their titles by which they were acknowledged and honoured by others. Jesus warns against the spirit that dominated these people and prompted such conduct – the spirit expressed in the prayer of the Pharisee, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men…”

And how is it with us? I find it easy to point a finger at other ecclesiastical traditions that have special dress to denote people of different rank and importance and which use a complexity of titles and salutations to reflect their precise place in the hierarchy. I find it easy to be critical of Christian ministers who want to be addressed as ‘Father’ when this is explicitly condemned by Jesus. But because I eschew such things, am I immune from the craving for recognition? Do I not glow with pride (inwardly) when people speak well of me? There is a deceptively subtle line between the desire to know that your work has been useful and has encouraged others and the desire for praise that will feed your own ego. It's the fine line between wanting to be a good servant and wanting the recognition of a lord.

Jesus calls us to watch continually over our own hearts. The only safeguard against such common human failings is to be filled with the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). Jesus, the Son of God, was not concerned for his own glory but was concerned to be the source of blessing to those he came to serve. He calls us to follow him and to have this same mind, heart and attitude.

This is a hard call. We simply cannot manage it on our own – we haven’t got it in us. It demands daily prayerful submission to the Lord Jesus and recognition of our utter dependence upon him. We need him to teach us how to follow him in the path of selfless service. We need him to help us to recognise that he alone is Lord and is worthy of all praise.

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.

Feb 3 2019 - Psalm 16 – No good thing apart from God

David begins this psalm of devotion with a plea that God would keep him safe. We do not know what threat David faced but he knows that God is the one who can save and protect him.

Though David takes delight in those around him who share his faith (v.3), he knows that his safety and security lies in God alone. "Apart from you", he says, "I have no good thing." He is conscious that God has blessed him and protected him in the past. It was God who enabled him to overcome the lion and the bear when he was looking after his father's sheep in the hills of Judea. It was God who protected him from Goliath whom he went out to fight armed only with a sling. It was God who protected him when Saul pursued him with his army of soldiers. David is confident that God will protect him now, unlike the idols who can neither speak nor act.

David trusts in the living God who has blessed him beyond measure: his "boundary lines have fallen … in pleasant places"; he has "a delightful inheritance." For David this is not simply, or even primarily, that he has been given an earthly kingdom with all its riches; he recognises that his true inheritance and riches are found in the Lord himself.  "Lord", he declares, "you alone are my portion and my cup."  Here is a man who knows God, and who delights in him (v.7), who keeps his eyes fixed on him and is confident that he is secure in him (v.8).

That confidence enables him not only to rejoice in all that life may bring, it assures him of God's continued blessing even in the face of death. He is confident that the one who has made known to him the path of life will not abandon him in death. Rather, the Lord will fill him with joy in his presence, with eternal pleasures at God's right hand (vv.10-11).

We have far greater reason for such confidence than did David. Acts 2 records that when Peter preached to the crowds on the day of Pentecost he quoted this psalm with David's affirmation, "You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead; you will not let your holy one see decay." Peter pointed out that David had died and was buried. David, said Peter, was speaking prophetically about his greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was crucified and his dead body was laid in a tomb not far from where Peter was preaching. But God did not leave Jesus in that tomb; his body did not see decay but was raised from the dead. Jesus is now exalted to God's right hand in the heavens.

Our confidence that God will not abandon us in death is grounded in the character of the God we have come to know in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the living God who raised Jesus from the dead. He is the loving God who gave his Son for us. Jesus is the one who has broken the power of death for us and has gone to prepare a place for us in his Father's house. We can trust God. We can be certain that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from the love of God in the Lord Jesus. He has made known to us the path of life and will fill us with joy in his presence, with eternal pleasures at his right hand.

Living God, we thank you for this lovely psalm expressing David's delight in you and confidence in your care in life and in death. We thank you that Jesus has secured for us a delightful inheritance and that we who have taken refuge in him can be assured of his presence, protection and care in life and in death. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on him that we may be kept from fear and that our lives may be filled with confident praise and thanksgiving.

Peter Misselbrook