Peter Misselbrook's Blog
May 6 2013 - John 4:43-54 – Your son will live

The story in today's passage is simple and straightforward. A ruler in Galilee had a child who was seriously ill and on the point of death. He came to Jesus, begging him to heal his son. Jesus' initial reply seems dismissive, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe" (John 4:48). But when the man again begged Jesus to save his son, Jesus did so with a word, "Go, your son will live" (4:50). At that very moment the fever left his son and he began to recover.

It's a simple story, but it’s one that is deeply perplexing. We have some friends whose daughter was very ill. Many of us were praying for her – praying daily; praying fervently – but she seemed to get no better. Another mutual friend told us that she got angry with God, telling him it's about time he did something to heal the child. Our experience seemed so far removed from that of the ruler who came to Jesus asking for his son to be healed. Jesus' initial comment that the people of Galilee only believed because they saw signs, seems to rebound upon us; how can we believe that God hears and answers prayer when he does nothing despite our cries to him?

There are many things that perplex us and we have many unanswered questions. Pete Greig wrote the book God on Mute out of the painful experience of unanswered prayer concerning his wife’s chronic illness. From the things that the Lord taught him through this experience he has been able to minister to many others in similar situations. He writes:

"I don't know why your prayers haven't been answered. But I do know that the very best thing about our lives – the most incredible thing we've got going for us – is that the Creator of a million stars is entirely and eternally good, that He is utterly caught up in the details of our situation, and that He cares for us more than we care for ourselves."

The most perplexing thing of all is that God should love us so much that he sent his Son to save us. The most amazing thing is that Jesus went to the cross for us. If God did not spare his own Son, we can be confident of his love for us. And it is this confidence that keeps us pleading for his mercy upon those we love, even when prayer seems to go unanswered.

We know also that one day Jesus shall come to put all things right. When he appears there will be no more sickness, disability or pain. Hurt and injustice will flee away and the tears will be wiped from every eye. In that day, the last enemy, death, will be destroyed and we shall enter into the liberating joy and fullness of resurrection life. 

And so we live now in the hope of that day. Sometimes our prayers go unanswered. Those we love not only suffer sickness, they may be taken from us by death. But they are taken only that they might one day be returned to us perfectly well and fully alive. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead underwrites our hope that “All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Risen Lord Jesus, I pray for those who are suffering from disease, hunger and injustice. Lord, heal this broken world and turn tears into laughter even as you will do in the day of your coming. And in this meantime help me to bring healing to those who suffer, comfort to those who mourn, light to those who walk in darkness and hope to those who feel the weight of despair.

May 6 2019 - 2 Samuel 6 – The ark brought to Jerusalem

David has made Jerusalem his capital city and has built himself a grand palace that dominates this "city of David" (2 Samuel 5:9). But David does not want his name to mark this city, he wants it to become the centre of worship in Israel, a place where the Lord God of Israel is honoured and worshipped – he wants it to become "the City of God". So David decides to have the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem. As we have seen, the Ark of the Covenant was the symbol of God's presence with his people, the Lord is spoken of as being "enthroned between the cherubim". David wants to ensure that the Lord is now enthroned in Zion.

But how do you move an ark? David seemed to think that the best means of transport would be a cart pulled by oxen – it's the most efficient way to transport this heavy box from one place to another and was the method used by the Philistines when they returned the ark to Israel (1 Samuel 6). But when the oxen came to the threshing floor of Nakon, uneven ground near the floor made one of the oxen stumble and the cart rocked, threatening to upset the Ark. Uzzah, one of those accompanying the cart, put out his hand to steady the ark and was immediately struck dead by the Lord. Why such an angry response to what was intended to be a helping hand? What is going on here?

God had given instructions concerning the care of the ark. It was not to be touched except by the Levites. If it needed to be moved it should be carried by Levites using the poles that fitted through rings on the sides of the ark. David had ignored the command of God and as a result a man was dead. Do you remember Samuel's words to Saul when he had failed to wait for Samuel's arrival and had taken it upon himself to offer a sacrifice to the Lord? Samuel said, "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22). Obedience to God is more important than religious ritual. Saul's disobedience marked the beginning of him being rejected by God as king over Israel.

David was angry about what had happened (2 Samuel 6:8), but he was also afraid of the Lord (6:9). He was beginning to learn that God cannot be manipulated, nor can the throne of God (see 6:2) be made subject to King David. The Lord God is the King of kings; he is the one to whom kings and all rulers of this world must bow in recognition and obedience.

What of ourselves? Do we understand that Aslan is not a tame lion, our God is a consuming fire? The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Three months later, David again seeks to bring the ark to Jerusalem. This time the ark is carried as God had commanded and, after a few steps, David offers a sacrifice – perhaps to atone for his arrogance and wrongdoing. The ark then continues on its way to Jerusalem accompanied by a rejoicing crowd shouting and blowing trumpets. David, dressed in a plain linen ephod or tunic, seems to have led the procession, dancing with joy before the Lord.

Michal – David's wife, Saul's daughter – sees David dancing and treats him with scorn. She seems to think that this is not how a king should behave. She comes from a royal family and believes a king should wear fine robes and maintain a dignified and elevated position among the people. David had behaved like a common servant. David's response is to say that he is happy to be humiliated in his own eyes. The Lord has given him a position of honour; he does not need to elevate himself.

Are we concerned for our own dignity and honour or for the glory of God? "Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12).

Holy Father, give me a fresh view of your greatness, purity and power that I may be humbled in my own eyes. Give me also to see the wonder of your grace which lifts me up to sit with Christ in heavenly places. Animate me with your Spirit and fill me with songs of joy.

Peter Misselbrook