Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 9 2013 - Matthew 26:14-46 – The blood of the covenant

The passage we have read this morning is one of contrasts. On the one hand we have the weakness of the disciples. Jesus tells them that that before the night is out they will all abandon him and flee. When Peter boasts that he will never abandon his Lord, Jesus tells him that he will disown him three times. The disciples are weak, fickle, easily discouraged and yet seem quite unaware of their weakness. Later Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He takes Peter, James and John with him and asks them to keep watch with him as he faces the coming crisis with growing horror and grief. Perhaps he had hoped that they would pray for him as he poured out his heart to his heavenly Father; but they fall asleep. The disciples are weak; the flesh is weak; we are weak.

The second strand that runs through these passages this morning is Jesus' acceptance of the "cup" that he must drink. Even in the Garden, as he faces this prospect with agonised horror he prays "My Father ... not as I will, but as you will ... may your will be done" (Matthew 26:39, 42). Jesus' use of the word "cup" is significant; this picture is used in the Old Testament of the outpouring of God's wrath against sin (Psalm 11:6; Isaiah 51:17; Ezekiel 23:33). Jesus knows that he must take upon himself the role of the Suffering Servant, the one who bears the sin of his people and suffers the punishment that is their due. He knows that he must taste the cup of God's wrath.

His acceptance of this cup is played out in the Passover meal he eats with his disciples. There they remember how God saved his people from Egypt on that first Passover night. They remember how the judgment of God fell on Egypt and that the Israelites were kept safe only because they were protected by the shed blood of the Passover lamb; one died that night in every house in Egypt. And Jesus used this occasion to speak of his approaching death. The disciples, these weak and fickle disciples, are given bread from the hands of Jesus who tells them that he gives himself for them. These disciples are given a cup of wine from the hands of Jesus who tells them "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (26:28). They are all to drink of it. They are all brought into an indissoluble relationship with the living God through the shed blood of this Passover lamb – the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

We also are weak disciples. Sometimes we are all too aware of our own weakness; sometimes we deceive ourselves and boast of our strength. But our hope and confidence does not lie in ourselves; it rests in our Saviour and his atoning sacrifice upon the cross. He bore our sin in his body on the tree, and in love he invites us to take and eat, take and drink – to come and find shelter in his shed blood. Through the blood of the covenant our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God, and owned by him.

And Jesus still speaks to us, his weak disciples, calling us to watch and pray that we might not fall into temptation. But he does not call us to do this alone; he, the mighty, powerful and victorious Saviour watches and prays with us – and he never dozes off.

Lord, I recognise my weakness. I am eternally grateful for the forgiveness and cleansing that come to me through your broken body and shed blood. Awaken me through your Spirit and strengthen me to face the challenges of this day in your name and in your power. Keep me from denying you by my words or conduct this day. Keep me closely following you.

Feb 9 2019 - Exodus 1:1-22 – Genocide

God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the sea-shore. God promised Jacob that his descendants would become like the dust of the earth in number. During the many years that the Israelites had been in Egypt, God had been fulfilling his promises; the Israelites had "multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them" (Exodus 1:7).

But God's faithfulness in blessing his people created its own problems. Joseph and the blessings he brought to Egypt had long been forgotten. The current Pharaoh can only see that these foreigners are multiplying in number and could become a threat to his country – an attitude with which we are sadly all too familiar.

But threats can also become opportunities. Pharaoh decides to use these people as slave labour to build store cities for the Egyptians. Joseph had once advised Pharaoh on the building of store cities and may even have overseen their construction; his descendants, and those of his brothers, are now at the bottom of the heap in the construction of these same facilities. Moreover, they were worked ruthlessly; Pharaoh is not content simply to have them as slave labour, he wants also to break their spirit and their power.

Despite this harsh treatment, the Israelites continue to multiply to the dismay of the Egyptians. So Pharaoh decides on the time-honoured tactic of tyrants, he will murder those whom he perceives to be a threat to his own power. He does not wish to destroy his own workforce, but he does want to stop their numbers growing. He calls in the Hebrew midwives – two of their representatives are mentioned here by name. They are told to strangle every male child at birth. But the midwives are not in the business of death; they have the privilege of partnering with God and bringing new life into the world in the fulfilment of his promises. They may be afraid of the power of Pharaoh, but they have a far greater reverential fear of the God of Abraham.

Pharaoh cannot recruit the Hebrew midwives to his cause, so he decides that he will now recruit the whole population of Egypt. Anyone who sees an Israelite baby boy must throw him into the river so that the child will drown.

God is still at work to fulfil his promises and ultimately to bring blessing to all nations of the earth. But this does not mean that his people will always have an easy time. There are those who are determined to oppose the purposes of God. Such people are sometimes in positions of power and can make life hard for those who know God, even to the point of threatening their lives. Many Christians face such opposition and persecution today. They need our prayers.

We too may be called to live in challenging times and we always face the temptation to conform to the prevailing behaviour of those around us. It takes courage to stand up for what is right and good and, like the Hebrew midwives, challenge those who are in positions of power. 

Father, we pray for those of your children who today are facing persecution and the threat of death. Enable them to know that you are with them and have not abandoned them. Give them the spirit of the Hebrew midwives who feared and trusted you more than they feared the power of their oppressors. Keep us also from becoming conformed to the spirit of our age. By your Spirit, transform and renew our minds so that we might stand up for what is right and good and do what is pleasing to you.

Peter Misselbrook