Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 9 2013 - Mark 14:22-52 – The flesh is weak

Jesus knew that he was soon to be arrested, tried and put to death. Taking Peter, James and John with him into the garden of Gethsemane, he poured out his heart in prayer. He had wanted these three disciples to be his companions in his agony and prayer, but they fell asleep. Jesus' words to them are full of sad accusation, "Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:37-38).

The disciples were beginning to learn more about themselves. Soon they would run off and desert Jesus when he is taken captive. Before the night is out, Peter will deny that he ever knew his Lord. The flesh is weak.

And we are no different. We are full of good intentions and grand plans, but we all too often fail to live up to our words. Many years ago now, I was in Christian ministry as pastor of a church. I had, I believed, a clear vision of what a church should be and a longing to develop a community of the people of God where we would disciple one another and grow up into Christ. The stress of the work and a breakdown in my health led to me resigning from the pastorate. It was a devastating experience for me from which, more than 25 years later, I am still seeking to learn lessons. Above all, I was made painfully aware of my own weakness and the brokenness of all God’s people.

Such experiences underline the need for us to watch and pray, not just that we do not fall into temptation but also that we may have the strength to serve Christ as we should. We need to know ourselves and to be aware of own weakness and the frailty of others around us. But we need also to be fully confident that God's power is able to work in and through our weakness. As the Lord said to Paul, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." And Paul responded, "I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul's testimony is therefore, "I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). We need to watch and pray: watch for the dangers we face, fully aware of that we are weak; pray in the knowledge that we have one who is able to help us.

I am writing this during Lent, a time of preparation leading up to Easter. It's a time to reflect on our own weakness, but also upon the power and grace of God shown us in the Lord Jesus Christ – resurrection power; the power of life in the face of death. But the need to watch and pray will outlast Lent; it will last as long as we remain in our current weakness; it will only cease when we are finally transformed by God's power into the likeness of our risen Lord.

Lord Jesus, help me each day to watch and pray knowing that you are with me and that you pray with me and for me and never fall asleep. Keep me from the self-confidence that would boast that I will never let you down. Teach me the grace of humble dependence. Living God, by your Spirit equip me with everything good that I may do your will, working in me what is pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. And when I do fail, as I surely will, forgive me and restore me as you restored Peter of old, and then use me again for your glory.

Mar 9 2019 - Leviticus 16:1-22 – The Day of Atonement

Two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, had sought to offer unauthorised offerings to the Lord and had been struck dead (Leviticus 10:1-4). They may have sought to enter into the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy Place) – i.e. into God's presence – in an unauthorised manner. Certainly they had done so arrogantly. But their father, Aaron, as the Chief Priest of Israel must be able to enter into God's presence on behalf of God's people. How is he going to be able to stand in the presence of God? How, for that matter, can anyone stand in the presence of the living God who is burning in holiness? The ceremony of the Day of Atonement provides something of an answer to this question.

On this one day of the year, Aaron and his successor as High Priest, is first to purify himself by offering a young bull as a sacrifice for his own sin. He is then to wash himself thoroughly and is to put on clean linen garments, the garments of a priest.

Aaron is then to take two goats for the people and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Lots are to be cast to decide which goat will be sacrificed on behalf of the people and which will act as the scapegoat. The sacrificial goat is to be slaughtered and, just as Aaron has done with the bull's blood sacrificed to atone for his own sin, Aaron is to take it into the Most Holy place and sprinkle it on the atonement cover which is on top of the ark of the covenant. In this way he will make atonement before the Lord for the sins of the people. The blood of sacrifice has been shed in their place.

Then Aaron is to come out of the tent and lay his hands on the head of the second live goat and confess over it all the "wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites." The goat is then driven away into the wilderness, symbolically taking away with it all the sins of the people.

This ceremony was to be performed annually by Aaron and his successors.

Aren't you glad that it is no longer necessary for us to perform this rather ghastly and bloody ceremony? Jesus Christ has made the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for all our sins through the shedding of his own blood upon the cross. Risen from the dead he is now our Great High Priest who lives for ever in the presence of God, interceding for us in the courts of heaven. Our sins have been dealt with once and for all. There is no further need for any sacrifice for sin.

Let me return to the key question that gave rise to this extraordinary passage of Scripture: How can any of us stand in the presence of a holy God? The Day of Atonement provides the beginnings of an answer but it is only in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that this question finds its full and final answer. Jesus, our Great High Priest, did not need first to offer any sacrifice for his own sins – he was without sin. Nor is he the only one who can enter into God's presence; he has opened the way for each one of us to come before God: "Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

Father God, we thank you for the Lord Jesus who offered himself and shed his own blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We thank you that no further sacrifice is demanded from our hands except the sacrifice of heartfelt thanksgiving and praise. Lord, we are aware of our own sin and failings and readily confess them before you. Thank you that Christ has borne them all away so that they are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. Thank you that, trusting in him, yours is a throne of grace and not of judgment. May your Spirit encourage us to come confidently into your presence with both praise and petition, knowing that you are always ready to receive us and hear our prayers.

Peter Misselbrook