Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 12 2013 - Luke 15:1-32 – This man welcomes sinners and eats with them

For the last few years I have been involved in a competition that challenges people to put together a pitch for the making of a short film based on a story from the Bible. Each year there have been several that have wanted to make a film based on the parable of the prodigal son. It is not only one of the best known parables of the Bible, it is one of the best known of all the Bible's stories – and one of the best loved. All of us have, at some time or another, done things of which we are ashamed, things that have got us in trouble; all of us have longed for a way home while at the same time fearing how we might be received. This parable holds out a timeless message of hope.

But for all of our fascination with this parable, we sometimes forget the context in which it was told. The crowds had gathered to hear Jesus. It was particularly the outcasts of society who pressed in to hear him – the "tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 15:1). Nor did Jesus seek to fend off the attention of such folk. On the contrary, he frequently ate with them. The Pharisees and teachers of the law argued that Jesus must favour such company because he was one of the same sort – a sinner. They muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them" (15:2). It was against this background that Jesus tells the parable of the lost and returning son, the third in a set of parables about the recovering of that which was lost.

It can be dangerous to try to identify every character and action in a parable, as if it were a detailed allegory. However, the father in this parable is surely intended to be a picture of God (particularly in the light of the preceding parables). This is what God is like, says Jesus, he welcomes the returning sinner; he not only allows him back to eat at his table, he throws a party and welcomes the prodigal home with open arms and much joy.

Jesus is telling the sulking Pharisees that in all that he is doing he is showing the world the character of God the Father; he is making him known. And this still is the message of the gospel; it is not just that Jesus is like God, the wonder rather is that God is like Jesus. Jesus shows us what God is like; the one who created the universe "welcomes sinners and eats with them."

And then there is the elder brother in the parable. He does not share his father's joy over the returning prodigal; he does not want to associate with sinners. This character surely corresponds to the attitude of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. In turning up their nose at "sinners" and refusing to have anything to do with them they think that they are reflecting the character of God – but they are not. It is Jesus, not the Pharisees, who shows us the character of the Father. God may be holy, but he loves sinners and longs to embrace them and welcome them home.

And whose character do we display in the way we relate to others around us?

Living God, open my eyes to see the wonder of your character – that you are a God of grace who runs to meet the returning sinner. Thank you Lord Jesus, that you, my elder brother, did not remain in the Father's house but came into the far country to seek us out when we were far from home and bring us back to enjoy with you the untold riches of your inheritance. As you have reflected and displayed the heart of the Father, so help me by your Spirit to reflect your heart of love in my attitude to those around me.

Apr 12 2019 - Judges 16 – Delilah, defeat and death

Samson is a comic book hero. When trapped in gated Gaza where he has been visiting a prostitute he pulled gates and gateposts out of the city wall, heaved them onto his shoulders, and walked with them them 30 miles to Hebron where he left them perched upon the top of a hill facing the city as a trophy for all to see – to the delight, no doubt, of the Israelites and the fury of the Philistines.

But Samson was also a tragic figure whose weakness for women got him into continual trouble. He never seems to learn from the situations he gets himself into. He fell in love with a woman called Delilah and her duplicity led to his downfall. Delilah had been persuaded by the Philistines to discover the secret of Samson's strength. In what could have been the script for a pantomime, three times Samson spins her a yarn about his strength and three times it is proved false. Finally, faced with Delilah's whining, Samson was persuaded to reveal that his strength lay in his hair, the symbol of his devotion to the Lord as a Nazirite. When his hair was shaved off, the Lord left him and so did his strength; he became like any other man and was able to be taken captive by the Philistines. His eyes were gouged out and he was sentenced to hard labour in a Philistine prison.

There, as Samson is bound in bronze shackles and forced to grind corn for the Philistines, his hair began to grow back again. The Philistines may have had some awareness that his strength is returning for, when they were celebrating a festival to their god Dagon in his temple, they called for Samson to be brought in that he might "perform" for the crowds. And perform he does; crying upon the Lord for strength, he pushed apart the main pillars of the temple and brought down the roof upon himself and thousands of celebrating Philistines. He had fought the Philistines for much of his life, nevertheless it is recorded of him, "Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived."

Samson was a man of his time; he reflected the compromised obedience of Israel. It's easy for us to find fault with his "devotion" to the Lord. But are our lives really so very different? Our sins may not be as obvious as those of larger-than-life Samson but are they any the less real? Is our devotion to the Lord free of all compromise? Samson's life challenges us to consider what it would mean for us to be truly and single-mindedly devoted to the Lord – and in so doing it points us to Jesus.

Jesus alone was without sin. He alone was continually determined to do the will of his heavenly Father – to complete the work the Father had given him to do. That obedience not only brought him into this world but took him to the cross. Of him also, and in a far more significant sense, it can be said that he achieved the greatest victory of his life through his death. But unlike Samson, he rose victorious from the grave. His victory was over sin and death itself – he destroyed the reign of death over his people through his own death and resurrection. Now he shares that triumph with us – we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. In view of God's mercy towards us in Christ and by the power of his Spirit who fills us with Christ's risen power, we are called to offer ourselves to God in undivided worship and in joyful service.

Holy God, I find it easy to identify the faults in others and to point out the inconsistencies in their profession of devotion to you. Help me to deal with the plank in my own eye. You have said, "The people that know their God shall be strong, and do exploits" (Daniel 11:32). Increase my knowledge of you and of your saving goodness. May my life to be marked by single-minded devotion to you.

Peter Misselbrook