Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 9 2013 - Luke 13:1-21 – Did they deserve it?

Two days ago, the BBC news carried a strange item about a Japanese beak fish that had arrived on the shores of Oregon, carried in a small boat that had been swept out to sea in the 2011 tsunami. For the last two years the waterlogged boat had drifted across the Pacific carrying its strange passenger to the shores of the United States.

This story reminds us of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan just over two years ago. Many thousands were killed or left homeless and nuclear reactors at Fukushima were crippled, leading to the release of troubling levels of radiation. What are we to make of such disasters? Should we seek to identify some particular trait in the Japanese – perhaps particularly those living in the most stricken areas – that provoked such a judgment? And what are we to say of famines or disease such as HIV that plagues so many parts of Africa? What have those who suffer untimely death done to deserve such a fate?

This was the question that was posed to Jesus when he was told of the Galileans who had been slaughtered by Pilate in the very act of offering sacrifices. This is the question he posed to his audience concerning the eighteen who died when a tower fell on them in Siloam; "Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?" (Luke 13:4). Jesus' answer is that they were not picked out by the hand of God because they were particularly worthy of judgment; they were just the same kind of people that you find anywhere else. More to the point, they were just the same kind of people as you or me.

Such disasters should move us firstly to compassion. Those affected are just like us. How would we wish others to respond if we or those we love were caught up in such things? We need to consider what we can do to help them and to bring them some measure of relief.

Secondly, we grieve that we live in a world where such things happen and where 'innocent' lives can be swept away in a moment. The world we live in is not as God planned that it should be, or created it to be; it is a world groaning with the longing to be transformed at Christ's coming (Romans 8:20-22). And we who have learned the heart of God for his broken world long for the day when all things shall be made new. We are pained by the sadness of a fractured world and cry out to God – sometimes with groans beyond words – for its mending.

And last, but by no means least, we want the confused inhabitants of this broken world to turn to God in hope. In response to the crowds who asked whether those struck down in an untimely manner were particularly deserving of such a fate Jesus replied, "I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:5). Such disasters remind us that sooner or later death will come to each of us; we are all mortal; we shall all face that great undoing. We, and every person in this dying world, need to know the living God, and to know in Christ crucified and risen from the dead the indestructible hope of a world made new.

This is the message of Easter; there is hope beyond disaster for all who will trust in the risen Christ. He gives hope in the face of death and hope for a world made new.

Heavenly Father, keep me from quick and crass judgments concerning the misfortunes of others. Give me a heart of compassion for those who suffer pain and loss in this broken world. Give me the wisdom to see what I can do to bring hope and healing in place of hurt and despair.

Apr 9 2019 - Judges 7:1-25 – The defeat of Midian

Gideon had been chosen by God to deliver Israel from their Midianite oppressors. So he gathered together an army of 32,000 men. But the Lord told him that his army was too large – even though the Midianites are described as being as countless in number as the sand on the seashore (see Judges 7:12). With an army of 32,000 the Israelites might just have been tempted to boast that they had won the victory by their own power.

So began the process of whittling down Gideon's army to the size of a school outing. All manner of explanations have been given for the way in which the majority are sent home, but the simple explanation is the one given in the text; God is determined to defeat the Midianites by his own power – "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6). The reduction of the numbers to a ridiculously small band of 300 was not to isolate the best soldiers but to demonstrate God's power to give victory to his people despite their weakness.

Gideon was given encouragement when, directed by the Lord, he overheard someone in the Midianite camp recounting his dream concerning a large barley loaf that rolled down the hill and flattened a tent. His companion responded by saying, "This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands" (7:14). Whether this answer is given in fear or in jest we are not told, but it is evident that the Midianites have heard of Gideon and of his plans to attack their camp. One can assume therefore that they were not entirely unprepared for battle.

Gideon's tactics involved surrounding the Midianite camp during the cover of darkness. Then, at midnight, they caused as much confusion as possible with blazing torches, trumpets and shouts – reminiscent in some ways of the fall of Jericho. In their panic and confusion the Midianites end up fighting one another in the darkness. Those that managed to flee the camp were picked off by the cordon of Gideon's men.

The surrounding tribes of Israel were then recruited to mop up the scattering Midianite army and put them, and particularly their leaders, to the sword. In this way, the Midianites were utterly defeated.

The story of Gideon teaches us that God does not require vast armies to accomplish his purposes: he did not require large numbers to defeat the Midianites; he did not require large numbers of disciples after Christ's resurrection to transform the Mediterranean world of the first century; he does not require overwhelming human power today to extend his kingdom. God accomplishes his purposes, "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6).

"And now it is our turn... It is our turn to rediscover the beautiful, dangerous, compelling idea that a group of people, surrendered to God and to each other, really can change the world." (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, p.164)

Great God, forgive me when I am so overwhelmed with a sense of my own inadequacy that I retreat from the work of your kingdom. Give me the faith of Gideon who went out against a great army with only 300 men knowing that he was going with your promise, your presence and your power. Help me to know that Christ has already secured the victory over the kingdom of this world and that there can be no doubt concerning the ultimate triumph of his kingdom.

Give me the faith which can remove
and sink the mountain to a plain;
give me the childlike praying love,
which longs to build your house again.

Peter Misselbrook