Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 2 2013 - Luke 9:51-10:12 – A paradoxical contrast

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will face betrayal and death. He has “set his face towards Jerusalem”; he is determined that nothing will turn him aside from the task that the Father has sent him to accomplish. He is determined to go to the cross for us.

As he and his followers passed through Samaria, messengers were sent on ahead to prepare a place for them to stay the night. One Samaritan village refused hospitality to the party because Jesus was travelling to Jerusalem. James and John asked if the Lord would like them to call down fire from heaven on the village. Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:55) and led them on to another village.

The arrogance and presumption of James and John is breath-taking. Firstly they display a vengeful spirit that seems so contrary to that of their Master – a spirit that prompts Jesus' rebuke and earns them the nickname Boanerges (thunder boys). Secondly, they assumed that they had the ability to call down fire from heaven. Who did they imagine had given them that skill? I am reminded of the conversation between Glendower and Hotspur in Shakespeare's Henry The Fourth:

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?

This incident is followed by Jesus' words of instruction to the 72 whom he is sending out to proclaim the kingdom of God in the surrounding area. He tells them that if any town refuses to welcome them, they are to, "go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.'" (10:11). Then Jesus adds, "I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town" (10:12). Fire fell from heaven on Sodom for its gross failure of hospitality towards the messengers of God. The fate of the inhabitants of the town that rejects the messengers of Jesus will be no better.

You can, of course, decide to reject these final words of Jesus to the departing 72, deciding that they are out of character and an addition by a scribe of the same spirit as James and John. But then, surely, you also become arrogant and presumptuous in deciding what parts of the Gospel accounts depict a Jesus that conforms to your own expectations. Humble hermeneutics requires that we seek to understand what we are given; it will not allow us to rewrite the text.

Jesus' refusal to permit James and John to call down fire from heaven is not because his character is one of perfect love that precludes all judgment. He rebukes them because they have failed to understand what the time is; now is the day of salvation and the door to life must continue to remain open. Nevertheless, the Day of Judgment will come. We need to understand both of these things; we need our lives and testimony to be shaped by both of these realities if we are to have the mind of Christ.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you set your face to go to Jerusalem and to endure a cruel death upon the cross for us. Thank you that you were ready to suffer rejection, not just by Samaritan villagers, but also by Jewish leaders and Roman authorities – by us. You humbled yourself that we might inherit glory. Keep me, Lord Jesus, from an arrogant and presumptuous spirit. May I seek always to be a blessing to those around me. Keep me from cursing those whose conduct I find disappointing, hurtful or unkind; rather, help me to pray for them that they too may find forgiveness and healing through your sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.

Apr 2 2019 - Joshua 6:26-7:26 – The sin of Achan

How had the notable victory over Jericho been achieved? The walls had fallen not because of Israel's superior power but because they had obeyed the Lord, even when God's strategy for taking the city had seemed odd and unrealistic – who would have thought that marching round the city, blowing trumpets and yelling would have brought down its walls. God was teaching the Israelites that he would give the land into their hands if they fully trusted and obeyed him.

One of the commands God gave the people through Joshua was that they were not to enrich themselves by taking any of the plunder from the city. Articles of iron, bronze, silver and gold were to be put into the "treasury of the Lord's house" (6:24), the rest of the riches of the city were to be burned. The battle would be won by the Lord and the plunder was to be his.

But the temptation was too great for at least one of the Israelites. Achan, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, saw wonderful riches in the city and he wanted some of them for himself.

It seemed that no one outside of Achan's family knew what he had done. He appeared to have got away with it. But God not only saw his actions, he knew his heart and "his anger burned against Israel" because of that act of covetousness and disobedience.

The next city for capture on Joshua's agenda was Ai. It was much smaller than Jericho so only 3,000 Israelites were sent to capture it. But, instead of taking the city, the Israelite army were defeated and had to flee for their lives.

Joshua was perplexed and dismayed and turned to God with a complaint reminiscent of those continually made by the Israelites against Moses in the wilderness, "Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us?" (7:7). How easily we blame God for disasters we have brought upon ourselves!

God tells Joshua, in effect, to stop his snivelling. Israel has sinned and God has withdrawn his support for their armies. They have just discovered that they are powerless when God is not with them. It is a lesson they will have to learn time and time again throughout their history. Have we learned that this is true also for us?

Lots are cast and the culprit is identified. Achan does not hide what he has done but tells of the clothing, silver and gold he buried in the ground under his tent. Achan, and his family are put to death and all his possessions are destroyed in a valley that from then on will be known as the place of trouble – Achor. Only then, and when they are submissive to God's instruction, are the Israelites able to capture the city of Ai (Joshua 8:1-29).

The story of Achan is deeply troubling but is strikingly similar to the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5. It teaches us that God looks for a people who will be wholly devoted to him.

God has not changed. If we are a people who want to know God's presence with us and his power at work though us for the extension of his kingdom and transformation of our world, devoted obedience to him must come before personal fulfilment and the pursuit of this world's glittering prizes. A divided heart will damage our testimony and rob the church of its power. God cannot be bargained with.

Father God, you did not spare your own Son but gave him up for us. Help us by your Spirit to give up the desire for all things except you presence and your glory that we might serve you with an undivided heart. We know that the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. And gladly we add our "Amen".

Peter Misselbrook