Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 1 2013 - Mark 10:13-31 – How hard it is for the rich ...

There are some things Jesus says that make us uneasy. We read them quickly and pass on; or maybe we add our own gloss to them to ensure that the shock of what he says is mitigated.

We have one such saying before us this morning. When a rich young man comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Mark 10:21). When the young man has turned sadly away, Jesus tells the crowd, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" (10:23).

These are uncomfortable words, for we know that we in the West are among the rich of this world. More than that, in many ways we have become rich at the expense of others. We are made uneasy by Jesus' words. Is he talking about us? Does he want us to sell all we have and give it to the poor?

Jesus' words make us uncomfortable. So we hedge them around with protective interpretations. It is not possessions themselves that are the problem but rather the love of them. We do not have to get rid of what we have; we need only to ensure that our possessions do not possess us – that they do not steal our heart. We do not need to give away all we have; only to be open-handed and generous. After all, our possessions are God's gift to us; a gift we are to use wisely as his stewards rather than fling away. Were we to give them all away we would then need someone else to help us out. If everyone were to give away all that they had there would be no-one left to help the poor.

There is, of course, much sense in all of this. But is it what Jesus is saying? And if this is what Jesus really meant, why did he not make that clear to this young man?

We do need to recognise that Jesus dealt with each person he met individually. He did not have a stock answer which was the same for everyone he spoke to but addressed each one according to their needs. Jesus did not tell Zacchaeus to get rid of all he possessed. We should not treat each word that Jesus speaks to an individual as if it were a universal command. Jesus had seen that this man’s riches were his idol; it was his riches that kept him back from following Jesus. Jesus spoke into the particular circumstances of this man’s life and told him what he must do if he would follow Jesus and share in his kingdom.

Having said all that, we need to be careful that we do not too easily dilute the force of Jesus' words. This incident is recorded for us to read because it is instructive for us. Jesus addresses us through this passage, just as he used the occasion to teach his disciples in Galilee. What is he saying to us? What is he saying to me? Are there ways in which I also have made money an idol and have been deceived into believing that my security is bound up with the quantity of my possessions? It is good to be made uncomfortable by Jesus’ words, not that we might sorrowfully turn back from following him but that we might follow him joyfully and with single-hearted devotion.

Lord, give me ears to hear what you are saying and a heart to respond to your call. Help me to have a right attitude to all that you have given me: to recognise that all I have belongs to you and is to be used to your glory. Give me a generous heart and a wise spirit in my stewardship of all that you have placed in my hands. May they prove a blessing to me and to many others rather than being a cause of stumbling.

Mar 1 2019 - Exodus 19:1-25 – Brought safely to Sinai

When, at the burning bush, the Lord had met with Moses to send him to rescue the Israelites from Egypt he had reassured him with this promise: "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain" (Exodus 3:12). God had been with Moses and had safely brought the Israelites through sea and desert to meet with him at this mountain – Mount Sinai.

Now that they have arrived at Sinai, God tells the Israelites; "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (19:4-6).

God's saving purpose for Israel does not involve his rejection of the rest of the world – the whole earth is his. He has saved and protected this people for the sake of his covenant, the covenant he made with Abraham through which he promised to bring blessing to all the nations of the world. The Israelites are to be a kingdom of priests; they are to act as mediators between the living God and the nations of the world, to be the means by which all nations enjoy the blessings promised by the God of Abraham. They should not think that God has chosen them and rejected the other nations; he has chosen them for the sake of the other nations – that they might be a light to the Gentiles.

The apostle Peter applies these words to predominantly Gentile churches in the first century (1 Peter 2:9). We have inherited this same promise and calling of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been saved not so that God may reject the rest of the world but that God may bring his salvation and blessing to others through us. We have been made God's people in order that we might "declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light" – that others might also be drawn out of darkness by our testimony to the light.

God had brought the Israelites to Mount Sinai to meet with him. But the people had to keep their distance. The mountain shook and trembled and was covered with thick cloud as God came down with thunder, lightning and fire. The people were warned not to go near the mountain or they will die. Only Moses and Aaron were permitted to go up the mountain to meet with God.

The Lord Jesus has provided the perfect sacrifice for sin. Through his shed blood and his risen presence at the Father's right hand he has become the mediator of the new and better covenant. He has brought us all into the very presence of God – anticipating that last day when God shall again come down in power to dwell among his people for all eternity. We are not required to stand at a distance; we have been brought near. What a tremendous privilege and blessing! What a great salvation!

Holy God, help me to understand what it means that I have been brought into your presence through the Lord Jesus Christ. You are the same holy God; you have not been tamed. You are a God of burning holiness; you are a consuming fire. And yet I can stand in your presence because Christ has died and Christ is risen. Thank you that you are with me, that I am your treasured possession and that you protect me and guide me. Help me to see that the blessings you have given me in Christ are not for me alone but are for the whole world. Use me to bring others into the light of your kingdom.

Peter Misselbrook