Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 4 2013 - Mark 11:27-12:17 – By what authority…?

The Temple authorities did not take kindly to Jesus driving the traders out of the Temple. They challenged him with the question, "By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you authority to do this?" (Mark 11:28). Jesus does not give them a direct answer, but asks them in return by what authority John had baptised the crowds who had come to him, was it from heaven or from men? The authorities are caught in their own trap. If they say that John was sent from God they must then accept the authority of the one for whom John had prepared the way. If they say that John had no authority they fear that they will lose all credibility with the people. So they answer, "We do not know."

Jesus has challenged them to think again about the issue of authority. They are used to the hierarchy of formal authority structures and the decisions which flow from the endless deliberation of their councils. By his question, Jesus suggests that these are mere human constructs. True, Jesus may not fit into their hierarchy of power but neither did John. His authority came directly from God; it was prophetic authority – and the people recognised it. Jesus wanted the Jewish leaders to see that his authority also was not from men; it could neither be given to him by them, nor could they strip him of his authority. His authority came from the one who had declared, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

But the Jewish authorities will not even consider such a possibility. It would amount to a denial, or at least a denigration, of their own authority. Their answer was therefore determined by pure pragmatism; it was governed by the calculation of what would follow if they gave a particular response. They did not seem concerned to weigh up the truth of the matter and to answer and act in accordance with the truth. They were concerned simply to protect their own world.

How can these people have been so blind and foolish? The things that Jesus did and the things that he said bore clear witness to who he was, to the authority he possessed and to the one who gave him that authority. But they seem incapable of seeing it.

But are there times when we also act pragmatically, seeking to preserve ourselves, our position and our comforts rather than responding to the truth and the demands of God? It's always easier to see the faults and stratagems of others than it is to know ourselves. Are there times when we are quick to reject the ministry of someone because they are not part of our group and don’t fit in with the way we do things? Do we reject what they say and the things they do without considering whether God may be at work through them? Are there times when we are driven into a corner by a determination to defend ourselves from all criticism? At such times, we are acting like the Jewish leaders and turning a blind eye to the truth.

Heavenly Father, keep me from the conceit of thinking that I am the guardian and arbiter of the truth. Open my eyes to see what you are doing in this world through the Spirit of the risen Saviour. Open my eyes to see the evidence of your grace at work and open my heart to rejoice that you are not bound by human constructs or limited by our petty organisations and committees. Lord Jesus, come to this temple and overturn all my self-serving prejudices and productions. Drive out all that cannot cohabit with your holy presence. Help me to know and rejoice in the generous truth that is found in you and to enjoy the freedom that comes from living in the light of that truth.

Mar 4 2019 - Exodus 25:1-22 – The Ark of the Covenant

The Israelites were a people on the move. They were living in tents. But God had shown that he was with them in every step of their journey. The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night had been the symbol of his presence. He had led them out of Egypt, protected them from their Egyptian pursuers and had brought them to Sinai where he had given them the law. God had been with them in their travels; he had travelled with them and before them.

Now God gives Moses instructions for the construction of a tabernacle – a special tent in which God will live symbolically among his people. Whenever and wherever the people are camped the tabernacle will be in the camp with them. (David Gooding calls the tabernacle, "The tent God used when God went camping.") It will be the visible sign of God's presence and the place where Moses will now go to meet with God.

The first item of furniture that God commands to be built for the tabernacle is the ark of the covenant. This is a large chest made out of acacia wood and covered with gold inside and out The gold would have come from the jewellery given to the Israelites by the Egyptians when they left Egypt. This chest was to have four gold rings on it through which two poles could be fitted, providing handles with which the ark was to be carried.

This ark or chest was to contain the tablets of the covenant law that God gave his people. These declared that the Lord had entered into a covenant with this people: they were his people whom he had redeemed from Egypt; they were to live in submission and obedience to him.

The top of the ark was to have an "atonement cover of pure gold" (v.17). It was the place where the blood of atonement was sprinkled in the very presence, as it were, of the Lord (Leviticus 16:14), making atonement for the sins of the people and turning away God's wrath.

The two 'cherubim' mounted over the ark were to form an elaborate throne for the Lord himself. He is elsewhere spoken of as being, "enthroned between the cherubim" (see 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; Psalm 80:1; 99:1; Isaiah 37:16). This magnificent chest is God's throne and is the place where the Lord will meet with Moses to give him instruction for the Israelites.

The remarkable thing, of course, is that there is no image of the Lord above the cherubim. I say remarkable because every nation of the ancient world had an image of its god or gods. There had been plenty of images in Egypt. But God had commanded that no image should be attempted of him. Any physical representation would be a misrepresentation. Nevertheless, God had told the Israelites that there was already a visible representation of him. They and all humankind had been made in the image of God. Though that image had been marred by human sin and rebellion yet the Israelites were called to reflect God's character and image his purposes in a world that remained ignorant of him.

We who have come to know the living God through the Lord Jesus Christ have seen God's image perfectly represented in human form in him. And we are called to become like Christ by the power of God's Spirit within us. We are to be a people in whom the invisible God is made visible to the world.

Father God, thank you for Jesus Christ your Son who has tabernacled among us. He made your glory visible. Thank you that he gave himself as a perfect atoning sacrifice for our sin and has entered heaven on our behalf. He is the one in whom we have access into your presence and can meet with you. Make us more like Christ – remake us in your image. Help us to make your character, love and purpose visible to the world around us.

Peter Misselbrook