Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 8 2013 - Matthew 25:31-26:13 – The sheep and the goats

The parable of the sheep and the goats presents us with a puzzling question; if we are saved by grace and not by what we do, how can there be a judgment to come based on how we have lived our lives? This parable is not alone in raising this paradox. The apostle Paul, the great preacher of grace, also affirms a judgment to come based on how we have conducted ourselves in this life (see, for instance, 2 Corinthians 5:10). How are we to fit these truths together?

Salvation is not about a free ticket to heaven; it's about the transforming power of God. It's about the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead; the power of God that lays hold of lives and transforms them, making them like his Son; the power of God that will one day transform the whole of creation. There is no such thing as cheap grace. The grace that saves is also the grace that transforms. The salvation of God is not a legal fiction but a visible reality; the tree can be known by its fruit.

Jesus and Paul speak with one voice: “The grace of God that brings salvation … teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).

The Holy Spirit who brings us to faith in Christ purposes also to transform us into the likeness of Christ. The Spirit calls us to know Christ, to follow Christ and to be like Christ. That is what stands out in this parable; the "sheep" are commended for all manner of acts of kindness; acts which reflect the character of their Lord, who came "to proclaim good news to the poor... to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour" (Luke 4:18-19). The sheep have heard the Shepherd’s voice and followed him.

The parable provides us with a tremendous challenge and paradox. We often hear people say that the Christian church is full of hypocrites and that many non-Christians live lives that put Christians to shame. Sadly, there is truth in such accusations – even though we may point to the way the gospel has had a transformative influence upon society (see, for instance, Alvin Schmidt's, How Christianity has Changed the World). We recognise that we do not always practice what we preach and that our term-report always carries the verdict, “Could do better”.

But we need equally to recognise that we are a work in progress. The Christian church is a fellowship of broken people who have been forgiven and embraced by God. Furthermore, it is our delight to encourage more broken people to come along and join us. We are not yet all that we should be, nor what we shall be; we never get beyond a work in progress. Not that this is ground for any complacency; we need rather to continually spur one another on to love and good works – that we might stop acting the goat!

Lord, I recognise that the work of transforming my life has only just begun. Make me more like Jesus. Increase in me a heart of compassion for those in need and enable me to be good news to those around me. May I serve you in them and may they meet you in me.

Feb 8 2019 - Genesis 49:29-33, 50:12-26 – Jacob's death

In today's passage, Jacob and Joseph both talk about their own impending deaths and instruct their families on what is to be done with their remains. When the time comes for us, will we be comfortable to talk with our families about our own impending death? What will we have to say?

As a young man, Jacob had fled home because Esau, his twin brother, was threatening his life. God had appeared to him at Bethel, announcing himself as "the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac." He had promised to bring Jacob back to the land of Canaan and give it to his descendants who would be like the dust of the earth in number (Genesis 28:13-15). In accordance with his promise God had brought Jacob back to the Promised Land with the many children and possessions he had gained during his exile with uncle Laban.

Now, as an old man, Jacob had again been forced to leave the Promised Land; for the last 17 years had been living in Egypt. Nevertheless, Canaan remained for him the land of promise and he wants to be buried there with his fathers in the cave that Abraham had bought from Ephron the Hittite. God had promised the entire land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants but the only land they owned thus far was a grave.

Facing death, Jacob demonstrates his faith in the promises of God. He wants to be laid to rest in the land God had promised them in sure and certain hope that God would fulfil all his promises to his descendants in days to come.

Joseph similarly, when nearing death, gave instructions about his remains. He also is convinced that God will keep his promises. Though he is happy for his remains to rest with the Israelites while they are still in Egypt, he is fully convinced that God will one day bring them back into the land he had promised him. Joseph wants a part in that Exodus even after his death.

After Jacob's death, Joseph's brothers fear that he may now take the opportunity to exercise his power by punishing them for selling him into slavery, so they invent a story to try to protect themselves. Joseph takes no notice of their story but quietens their fears saying, "Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:19-20). Joseph recognises that God has been working out his purposes for blessing even through the evil plans of his own brothers.

These words remind me of the apostle Peter preaching to the crowds on the day of Pentecost. Some of the crowd may have been those who called out for Jesus to be crucified just a few weeks earlier. Peter declared, "This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (Acts 2:23-24). They intended it for harm but God intended it for good and for the saving of many lives.

God's determined purpose in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ gives us hope in the face of our own death. Even though our bodies may return to the dust from which they were made, either by slow dissolution in the grave or by rapid reduction to ashes, we have a sure and certain hope in Christ that we too shall share a part in the inheritance of glory that he will give to all who belong to him at his appearing. We have a better and more secure inheritance than Canaan.

Father God, we thank you that we can trust in you and in your promises in both life and in death. Thank you that your promises to us are underwritten by the shed blood of the Lord Jesus and guaranteed to us by his risen power. Help us not to fear death but to prepare for it in expectant hope.

Peter Misselbrook