Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 4 2019 - Joshua 24:1-31 – Covenant renewal and Joshua's death

Joshua is old (110, see v. 29), and will shortly die. He summoned all of the tribes of Israel to meet with him at Shechem. This was the place where Abraham had first camped in the land of Canaan and where God had appeared to him and promised to give the land to his descendants (see Genesis 12:6-7). This must have been in Joshua's mind when he chose the place for his final rally, for he reminds the people of their history, beginning with Abraham leaving his native country to become a wandering herdsman in Canaan.

Joshua reminds the people of their history because he wants them to remember what God had done for them. It was God who called Abraham out of Haran to live in Canaan. It was God who gave him many descendants. It was God who sent them down into Egypt to avoid famine and it was God who raised up Moses to lead them out of slavery in Egypt. It was God who brought them safely through the Red Sea and who drowned their Egyptian pursuers. It was God who gave them victory over the Amalekite kings on the east of the Jordan and who turned Balak's plans to curse them into blessing. It was God who caused Jericho to fall before their advance and it was God who had given them victory over the Canaanite peoples and their kings. Through Joshua God reminds his people:

You did not do it with your own sword and bow… I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.  (24:12-13).

So Joshua calls the people to abandon all other gods and to worship only Yahweh, the Lord their God. Or if they will not do that, he urges them at least to be single-minded:

If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (24:14)

The people responded saying, "We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God" (24:18. But Joshua is concerned that they understand the commitment they are making this day. God is not pleased with an enthusiastic declaration of devotion which is soon followed by a return to the worship of idols. He is a holy and a jealous God who will judge those who profess to serve him but whose hearts are divided and quickly enticed away from him. But, having heard Joshua's warning, the people repeat their promise, "We will serve the Lord our God and obey him" (v. 24).

The covenant promise that the people made that day was recorded by Joshua in "the Book of the Law of God" (v.24), and a memorial stone was set up to remind people of the promises they made in that place on that day.

We also need to remember all that God has done for us in Christ. He has saved us from the slavery of sin, gladly embraced us as members of his family, given us his Spirit and has promised us an inheritance of glory, freely secured for us by Christ our Saviour. We also are called to put away our idols and to serve him alone. In the light of all that he has done for us, surely we also declare from our hearts, "We will serve the Lord our God and obey him."

Triune God, help us never to forget all that you have done and are doing for us. Fill us with a spirit of thanksgiving and praise that will keep us in the path of joyful and obedient service. Keep us from turning back to the idols that tempt us with their hollow attractions. Help us to be living witnesses to your love and your salvation.

Apr 4 2013 - Luke 10:38-11:13 – Martha and Mary

What do you make of the story of Martha and Mary? I suspect you may even find the wording of my question slightly odd; we are more used to speaking of "Mary and Martha". But it's Martha who appears first in the story. It appears to be her house that Jesus is in and she is intent upon honouring him as her guest. Everything she is doing is intended as an act of service for Jesus, while her sister sits idly at Jesus' feet. Isn't it rather unfair that she is told off because of her way of expressing her devotion to Jesus?

I have a friend who tends to read the story in this way. He is a task-oriented person; always keen to be active in the work of the kingdom. He gets frustrated with those who present themselves as wonderfully spiritual but who do very little – like those who constantly leave others to clear away the chairs after a church service while they stand chatting with others.

Then there are those who ask the question, "Are you a Mary or a Martha?" – as if it's a matter of temperament. This would seem to suggest that one might be commended or condemned on the basis of one's inherent character – God loves contemplatives but hates activists!

We need to remember that whoever we are, and whatever may be our temperament, we are each called to follow Jesus. There is nothing spiritual about spending one's life in perpetual contemplation while refusing to get one's hands dirty with the common work of the world. Jesus did not choose to stay in heaven, sitting (as it were) at the feet of the Father and gazing upon his glory. Jesus came into this world to live the life of a servant and to give his life for our salvation. But equally there are dangers in the business of service. We can become so preoccupied with the work that must be done, that we lose sight of those whom we are serving – whether the Lord himself or other people. At such times the work becomes a heavy duty rather than a joy.

It's not a matter of temperament; it's a matter of the heart – of living closely with Jesus, following in his footsteps and of doing all that we do gladly to the glory of God and in service of others. And it's about balance. We need to follow Jesus who sought time apart with the Father but also gave himself gladly to the service of others. Was he a Mary or a Martha? ... a contemplative or an activist? He is God incarnate and the model for all he calls us to be.

The disciples had been busy in the work of the kingdom and had seen remarkable things happen as a result of their ministry but, when they saw Jesus at prayer, they asked him to teach them to pray, and that’s just what he did. They needed to learn to be still in the presence of God if they were going to continue being useful in his service. And so do we.

We need Jesus to teach us to pray – and we need to learn from those who have been taught by him. It’s good to repeat the words of the Lord’s Prayer and to use other written prayers which we make our own by joining our hearts with the words. These can be valuable learning aids. But it’s also good to pray in our own words, pouring out our hearts to God and bringing all our cares and concerns before him with thanksgiving and praise. It’s good to knock on heaven’s door in the confidence that, “Everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10).

Lord Jesus, teach me to pray – and to wait and to listen. And through such prayer, empower me for service that your kingdom may come and your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Peter Misselbrook