Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 26 2013 - Luke 7:11-35 – Justifying God

In the passage that we have been reading this morning, the Greek verb meaning “to justify” is used twice. In the first instance it is used of tax collectors and sinners who “justified God” (Luke 7:29). What an extraordinary phrase. What does it mean? I am reminded of Paradise Lost in which Milton says that his purpose is “to justify the ways of God to man”. He wrote in order to show the justice of God.

The meaning is similar and yet somewhat different in Luke 7:29. Jesus declares that the crowds, including tax collectors, who were baptised by John “justified God”. That is to say that they declared God to be righteous, just or true. They recognised the truth of God in the preaching of John and the justice of God in John’s declaration of their need to repent and be baptised. By way of contrast, says Jesus, the Pharisees and teachers of the law rejected the purpose of God in rejecting John. When we hear and receive God’s word, we “justify God”, we recognise him to be in the right. When we ignore God’s word, we set ourselves in opposition to his purposes.

The second occurrence of this verb is in 7:35 where Jesus says that “wisdom is justified by all its children”. I suggest that this rather enigmatic phrase means that those who believe the word of God preached to them recognise the wisdom of God (declare the truth – the rightness – of this wisdom) in what they have heard. More than that, they become wisdom’s children; they themselves become wise by responding to the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God is not an abstract idea, it is to be made visible – shown to be wise – in the lives of those who have embraced it.

Whatever we may take this verb to mean in other parts of the New Testament, here it clearly means to “reckon as right” rather than to “make right.” And in this sense, it is not only the case that God, in his grace, justifies sinners, it is also true that sinners, in believing, justify God. Day by day, moment by moment, we justify God by living in response to his word. The responsive heart and transformed life are a poem written by the Spirit of God by which he justifies his ways to ‘man’.

We see this supremely in the Lord Jesus himself. John was in prison and must have been aware that he might never be set free. He had begun to ask whether Jesus whom he had heralded was truly the Messiah. If Jesus had come to set the captives free, why was he, John, still in prison? So he sent two of his disciples to challenge Jesus.

Jesus sends them back to John with the words, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (7:22). The things that Jesus said and did were a living demonstration of who he was. They “justified God” – showed the righteousness and compassion of God to a world full of questions. They demonstrated the strange wisdom of God that would find its ultimate demonstration in the cross. “Blessed”, says Jesus, “is the one who is not offended by me” (7:23).

Lord Jesus, you came to justify the ways of God to man, to show us the righteousness, wisdom and love of God. Help me to trust you not only when all is going well, but also in the dark days when I do not understand what you are doing; help me to trust you and follow you. By the power of your Spirit within me may all I say and think and do this day justify you and declare the rightness, goodness and beauty of your ways to a watching world.

Mar 26 2019 - Deuteronomy 32:48-33:1, 33:26-34:12 – The death of Moses

The last of our readings in Deuteronomy tells us of the death of Moses. He, like his brother Aaron, was not permitted to enter the Promised Land because, God says, "you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites" (32:51). But he will be permitted to climb a mountain from which he can view the land. Before doing so, he declares God's blessing over the Israelites.

A few days ago we read of how Balak, king of Moab, took the prophet Balaam up a mountain to survey the Israelites and curse them for him. Balak did not succeed since he could not curse those whom God had blessed. Now we have Moses uttering a blessing over the Israelites – and they will be blessed and will become a blessing since this is God's declared purpose.

Our reading has included the last few verses of Moses' blessing, beginning with the words, "There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you" (33:26). "Jeshurun" is a poetic name for Israel (and apart from its occurrence in Deuteronomy, occurs in Isaiah 44:2 where it is used of the Lord's servant). Moses is declaring that there is no-one quite like Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel. Israel's safety and security (33:28) is guaranteed because the Living God has committed himself to care for this people:

The eternal God is your refuge,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms…
Blessed are you, Israel!
    Who is like you,
    a people saved by the LORD? (33:27 & 29)

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo, saw the Promised Land, heard God repeat his promises to his people before he died and, it seems, was buried by the Lord himself. The Israelites mourned over the death of Moses. Although they had been provided with a new leader in Joshua, no one could truly replace Moses:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt – to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land.  For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (34:10-12).

Moses was a truly great man but he was sinful man, like us. Nor was he a self-made man; he was great because God made him great. God called him and equipped him with his Spirit to be the one who would lead the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt. Moses was not their saviour, it was the Lord who saved and who protected his people Israel.

The Lord Jesus Christ is far greater than Moses (see Hebrews 3:1-6). He is our Saviour who has brought us out of slavery to sin and who will lead us into the inheritance God has promised his people. Unlike Moses, Jesus was without sin and has entered into his promised inheritance on our behalf. We who have come to trust in the Lord Jesus can take to ourselves the promise of blessing which Moses declared over Israel and can assure ourselves, "The eternal God is [our] refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." We are held in the safekeeping of the living God himself, and nothing and no-one can pluck us from his nail-pierced hands.

Father God, we thank you for our Lord Jesus who has secured for us your blessing and who holds us safely in his hands. Thank you that though he also faced death, he rose triumphant from the dead and will never again face death; he lives for ever as our hope, our help and our salvation. Thank you that in him we also have eternal life. Bless us and make us a blessing.

Peter Misselbrook