Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 16 2019 - Numbers 14:1-25 – Rebellion and judgment

Those who had explored the Promised Land delivered their report to the people who responded with bitter tears and complaints: "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?" (vv. 2-3). It's a familiar cry. We have heard before the refrain that the Israelites felt that they had been so much better off in Egypt.

Are there times when similar complaints rise up within us? Maybe we have refused an opportunity for a better paid job because of our commitment to serve Christ. Maybe we have broken off a relationship with someone because they did not share our faith. Now perhaps feelings arise within us that it would have gone so much better for us if we had not been so determined to follow Jesus. Who might be prompting such thoughts in us?

Two days ago our reflection was entitled, "Be careful what you long for." Here the people protest that it would be better for them to die in the wilderness than to attempt the conquest of the Promised Land and die by the sword. They have wilfully forgotten the promise, power and presence of the one who had graciously redeemed them from Egypt. He who had brought them safe thus far is quite able to give them this fruitful land – as Joshua and Caleb are keen to argue (vv. 5-9).

But the people would prefer to die in the desert. That, then, is what will happen to them; only their children will now enter the Land God had promised them.

Be careful what you wish for you. God might just grant your request only for you to discover that it brings bitterness and disappointment rather than blessing.

We should not pass over the role of Moses an intercessor with God on behalf of the Israelites (see Jeremiah 15:1). In today's passage we see that God threatens to destroy the people and to make Moses a kind of second Abraham, one from whom God will build for himself another great nation. One might have thought that this would have been an offer that Moses could not refuse but, on the contrary, Moses pleads with God to forgive this rebellious people and continue his saving purposes through them. In effect he reminds God that his reputation is bound up with the history of this people. If God abandons them now, the other nations will say, "The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness" (v.16). Moses pleads that God may act in accordance with his great love towards his people and forgive them. Such prayer pleases God for it reflects his own wounded but loving heart.

We need those today who will intercede with God like Moses. God's reputation is tied up intimately with that of us, his people, those whom he has redeemed at the cost of his own Son. Yet we remain a disorderly people – all too often half-hearted in our devotion and often bringing God's name into disrepute before a watching world. If it were not for the intercession of the risen Christ on our behalf, I think that God might well have washed his hands of the Christian church long ago.

But Christ calls us to join him in persisting with this perverse people and to join him in interceding for them – and for ourselves. We need to pray that God would continue the work that he has begun in us by his Spirit so that we might be those who attract others to him rather than causing them to blaspheme the name of our glorious Saviour.

Father God, we know that you are slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion, for we have seen you character displayed most fully and gloriously in the Lord Jesus Christ. Forgive us our sins and work powerfully within us by your Spirit that we may desire what you desire and do what you would have us do. Draw others to yourself through us until your glory fills the whole earth, for we ask it in Jesus' name.

Mar 16 2013 - Luke 2:1-35 – A light to the nations

Mary's baby boy was circumcised a week after his birth, in accordance with Jewish law and was named Jesus, the name given by God and revealed through angels. He is the one through whom God will act to save his people. Later, the child is taken to the temple to be consecrated to the Lord.

Yesterday we looked at Zechariah's song in which he spoke of the mercy of God displayed in the coming Saviour in terms of the rising sun shining from heaven on those living in darkness (Luke 1:78-79). This morning, we focus on a similar theme from the song of Simeon.

Simeon was a godly man who longed for the day when God would return to dwell in glory among his people; "He was waiting for the consolation of Israel" (2:25). God had revealed to him that he would not die before he saw the promised Messiah. Prompted by the Spirit of God, Simeon went up to the temple at the very time that Joseph and Mary had come to present Mary's firstborn to the Lord. Simeon took the young child in his arms and praised God:

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
   you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
  which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
   and the glory of your people Israel. (2:29-32)

God had called Israel to be a light to the nations (Gentiles). Israel had failed to live up to its calling. Rather, God's name was being blasphemed among the nations because of the conduct of his people (see Romans 2:24, quoting Isaiah 52:5; cf. Romans 2:19). Simeon longs for the day when the light of God's revelation will shine out from Israel into the entire world. And now he holds in his arms the one through whom this will be accomplished. This child will succeed where Israel has failed. He will take upon himself the calling of Israel; he will be the glory of Israel. He will be the light of the world; the one through whom the whole world will come to see and to know the living God. In him, God has visited his people Israel and is accomplishing his purpose that through the descendants of Abraham all nations on earth will be blessed.

Jesus took upon himself the calling of Israel – to be a light to the nations. But this was a costly calling. Simeon tells Mary, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too" (2:34-35). His ministry will be one of judgment and of salvation. Many will oppose him and by their attitude to him, the character of their own hearts will be revealed. He will suffer a fate which will tear apart the heart of his mother Mary.

Simeon and Anna see beyond the sweet Christmas baby to the reality of the Christ who has come to suffer judgment and bring salvation. Jesus calls us to follow him; to carry on the costly work of bringing the light of God's salvation to a resistant world.

"Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day." (Prayer of Richard, Bishop of Winchester, 1197-1253)

Peter Misselbrook