Peter Misselbrook's Blog
May 4 2013 - John 3:22-4:6 – The seal of approval

There was a time when the Roman Catholic Church sought to provide guidance for its members on what they should read. A bishop of the church would grant an imprimatur, a licence certifying the Church's approval of a book and granting permission for it to be published and read. The imprimatur would be printed along with the book to certify that it was sound and helpful for readers.

John writes that whoever accepts the testimony of Jesus, "has certified that God is truthful" (John 3:33). It's an odd phrase, and not easy to translate. It means literally that the one who believes in Jesus has "set their seal" to Jesus' testimony, certifying it as truth from God. I think that the old practice of the imprimatur is a helpful analogy. Those who believe in Jesus – those who hear his words and follow him – have set their imprimatur on his testimony. We have recognised that Jesus is the one who speaks truth from God. We continue to read and follow his teaching and we commend it – and him – to others.

Baptism is the preeminent means by which we assent to the truth of God revealed in Jesus. In baptism we declare that God is in the right – he is righteous – and we are in the wrong – we are unrighteous and in need of cleansing. In Christian baptism we acknowledge that Jesus is God’s provision for our need; in his death we die to all that is opposed to God and through his resurrection we receive the power to live a new life. In baptism we declare our faith, our trust, in him; we declare that Jesus is the promised Saviour of the world and that we will follow him. In baptism we set our seal to this, that God is true and that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

But we have to confess that, all too often, we are inconsistent disciples. Having set our seal to affirm what God has done in Christ we all too often fail to follow him. All too often our thoughts, words and deeds do not follow closely his thoughts words and deeds. In the words of the General Confession from the Order for Daily Morning Prayer:

Almighty and most merciful Father; we have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

We have need of such daily prayer of confession. But we also need daily confidence that God forgives and cleanses us afresh for Jesus’ sake; that our once-for-all baptism is a symbol of what God in Christ does for us again and again – does for us continually. Our confidence lies not in the fact that we have set our seal on him but that he has set his seal on us. He has declared that he will have us to be his own and that nothing in life or in death can separate us from his love. And it is this confidence that provides strength for renewed discipleship.

Lord Jesus, may my imprimatur on your testimony be more than mere show. Help me always to hear your voice and follow you. Help me always to commend you and your word to others that they too may know the truth of God.

May 4 2019 - 2 Samuel 5 – David king over a united kingdom

Saul and Jonathan are both dead, killed in a battle with the Philistines. So all Israel gathered to acknowledge David as their king for he is the one of whom the Lord said, "You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler" (2 Samuel 5:2). Unlike the kings of the nations, he is to be a shepherd-king, one who will devote himself to the care and welfare of the people of God. In this he is to reflect the character of the Lord who is the ultimate king over his people (see Psalm 23) and to anticipate the Great Shepherd who is to come.

David's first act is to march against Jerusalem, a city inhabited and defended by the Jebusites. The steep slopes and strong walls around the city, particularly around its fortress, Mount Zion, made its inhabitants confident that it could not be captured. The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 11 tells us that it was Joab, son of Zeruiah who found a way into the city and led the army in capturing it for David. As a result, he was made commander-in-chief of David's army. Jerusalem now became "the City of David". 

David spares no time in making Jerusalem not only his personal fortress but also the capital city for the kingdom of Israel. He increased its fortifications and then began to plan his own palace. For this he enlisted the help of Hiram, king of Tyre, whose men possessed the necessary skills and materials for building a house fit for a king.

David acknowledged "that the LORD had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel" (5:12); David knows that it is all God's doing. Nevertheless, the splendour of his palace and his growing collection of wives and concubines (5:13) suggest that he is all too quickly becoming "a king like the nations." Yet God is pleased to use and bless David, giving him further victories over the Philistines.

How easily we become compromised, particularly when the Lord blesses us. We deceive ourselves by saying that we are only making use of the opportunities the Lord has given us while, in fact, we are pleasing ourselves and following the patterns of behaviour common to the world around us. How wonderful that God does not treat us as our sins deserve but is pleased to continue to bless us and use us even when our desire to live for him so easily gets tangled up with our intention to please ourselves. Not that any of this excuses our sin – far from it – but it does encourage us to believe that God will not quickly cast us off.

Lord, you are my shepherd-king. Lead me in paths of righteousness for your name's sake. Help me to keep a watch over my own heart and to follow the Lord Jesus rather than the patterns of this self-seeking world. By your Spirit, make me aware of the ways in which I so easily seek to please myself rather than you. Show me more of the glory of the Lord Jesus who was willing to forsake his throne in glory to seek and to save those who were lost and to make us his own. Make me more like him.

May the mind of Christ, my Saviour,
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.

May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

Peter Misselbrook