Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 16 2019 - Psalm 73 – Prospering wicked

Psalm 73, like Job, asks why bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people.

The psalmist sought to live a life pleasing to God, but around him he sees many whose lives are preoccupied with looking after number one and they are prospering at it – look at the description of them in verses 4-11. He has been tempted with envy of them (vv. 2-3); why can't he enjoy the prosperity they enjoy? So he voices his complaint in verses 12-13:

This is what the wicked are like –
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.

There have been times when I have heard Christians tell me that to be successful in this business or that you have to cut corners and be less honest in quality of workmanship or the handling of finances and declaring of profits. Everybody else acts this way and if you don't you will lose out.

Two things need to be noted from this psalm. Firstly the psalmist says that he was envious and was tempted – his "feet had almost slipped" (v.2). He was tempted, but he did not follow their example.

Secondly, he voices his complaint not to God's people but to God himself. He says if he had spoken to fellow believers of his feeling that there was no benefit to living a godly life it could have acted as a snare to them, encouraged them in envy of the wicked and to abandon trust in God (v. 15).

We need to be very careful of how we share our doubts and fears with fellow Christians. It is always good to share such thoughts with a mature fellow Christian, seeking their help, their counsel and their prayer. But to share such thoughts with young Christians who are learning to follow Christ could be a snare to them. We need to watch our own words and conduct that they do not discourage or become a stumbling-block to others, particularly to those young in faith.

The psalmist tells us that his complaint found its resolution when he entered the sanctuary of God (v. 17). There the psalmist would have been made aware of the awesome holiness of God. He would have been reminded of the reality of human sin that demanded God's judgment and of the sacrifices that alone enabled sinful human beings to stand in the presence of a holy God.

Now he realises that those who live for themselves may prosper in life and die rich, but will, in the end face the judgment of God (Psalm 73:18-20, see also Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31). Trusting in the atoning sacrifice, and seeking to please God, the psalmist is assured that God is always with him (v. 23). God's Spirit will be his counsellor, encouraging and redirecting him when he is tempted to envy the ungodly. In the end, God will welcome him into glory (v.24). So this is now the testimony he gladly shares with all God's people in verses 25-26:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion for ever.

Father God, we thank you for Christ's perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins. We thank you that, risen from the dead, he is with us always. We thank you for your gift of the Holy Spirit to be our counsellor and guide. Keep us faithful in following the Lord Jesus, knowing that though we may not have the earthly riches which some others seem to enjoy, we have an inheritance of glory which far outweighs all that this world can offer. Help us to have a testimony like that in verses 25 and 26 of this psalm, a testimony that will encourage others also to trust in you.

Jun 16 2013 - Acts 10:24-48 – God of surprises

When Peter arrived at the house of Cornelius the Centurion he discovered that Cornelius had assembled a party of relatives and friends, all of them eager to hear what Peter had to tell them.

As soon as Peter entered the house, Cornelius fell at his feet in reverence. Peter’s reaction shows us that he had learnt well the lesson the Lord had been teaching him through visions from heaven. The Jews had long expected that when the Messiah arrived the Gentile nations would be brought to acknowledge that the God of Israel is the only true God. But, based on such passages as Isaiah 49:22-23 and 60:10-14, they had looked for the day when Gentiles would come to bow down at their feet and serve them. But Peter will have none of it. He immediately tells Cornelius, “Stand up, I am only a man myself.” Peter had learnt that Gentiles were to be welcomed into the kingdom on equal terms with Jews. It’s a remarkable moment.

Cornelius then explains that an angel had instructed him to send for Peter and that they were therefore assembled in the presence of the Lord waiting to hear what he had to say to them from the Lord.

Peter explains how the Lord had also appeared to him and enabled him to overcome the taboo against associating with Gentiles. He then goes on to speak of Jesus as one who was empowered by the Holy Spirit during his earthly ministry. He speaks also of Jesus' death and resurrection and tells the assembled crowd that all of the prophets spoke of Jesus. He is the one whom God has appointed to judge the living and the dead. All who put their trust in Jesus will have their sins forgiven – for them, judgment has become history.

As Peter is speaking to them the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles in unmistakable fashion; they praised God and spoke in other languages. This astonished many of those who had come along with Peter; they were not expecting that Gentiles would receive the Holy Spirit in the same way as they had. But in the face of these unmistakable evidences of their faith in Jesus and their acceptance by God, Peter has them baptised and welcomed into the family of Jesus.

Why were some of Peter's companions so amazed that the Holy Spirit who had empowered Jesus ministry and had been poured out on the first disciples at Pentecost, was now poured out on these Gentiles? After all, the Lord had appeared to Peter and told him to go to Cornelius and had appeared to Cornelius to tell him to send for Peter. If the Lord had done all this, why be surprised when he brought them to faith and gave them the Spirit? Furthermore, this is what Jesus himself had said in commissioning the disciples just before his ascension into heaven – they are to take the message to all peoples. Nevertheless, when God shows that he accepts the Gentiles through faith in Jesus in precisely the same way as he accepts Jews they are taken by surprise.

Like these Jews, we become used to the status quo and, despite the promises and purpose of God, don't really expect him to act in unfamiliar ways. When were you last surprised by God's unexpected activity in someone's life?

Lord, surprise me today by the profligacy of your grace and then make me ashamed of my surprise. Teach me afresh the greatness of your love and what it means that you do not show favouritism but accept all who fear you and do what is right.

Peter Misselbrook