Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 23 2019 - 1 Kings 18:30-45 – Fire from heaven

The prophets of Baal have failed to get any response from their god, despite the frenzy of their activity and the noise they have made. Now it is Elijah's turn. He rebuilt the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. He rebuilt it using twelve large stones, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Then, as the prophets of Baal and the assembled people looked on, he dug a trench around the altar. Those watching him must have wondered what he was doing. Then Elijah placed the wood and slaughtered bull on the altar.

Three times Elijah then instructed those around him to fill four large jars with water and to empty them over the sacrifice, the wood and the altar, until the trench around the altar was full to overflowing. This in itself must have amazed the crowd. After three years of drought and with water now in short supply, why waste 12 large jars of water? But Elijah knows that rain will soon be on its way. Elijah is concerned to demonstrate the power of the living God. He does not have to make it easy for God by leaving the wood tinder-dry. The mighty creator of wood and of water can alone set fire to this sodden sacrifice.

Now Elijah turns to prayer. With him there is no desperate frenzy of dancing and shouting, nor does he cut himself with knives to seek to gain God's attention. Elijah calmly but confidently called upon the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, the God who had chosen these people to be his people, who had promised to bless them and make them a blessing. He calls on God to send down fire so that the people "'will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.' Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, 'The LORD – he is God! The LORD – he is God!'" (18:37-39).

At Elijah's command the false prophets are put to the sword. Then, again in answer to Elijah's persistent prayer, the rain fell on the dry ground.

It's a wonderfully dramatic story. The living God is the God who speaks and acts; he is not blind, dumb and inactive like the idol gods that others may worship. We delight in this story and in the power of our God.

But if we are honest, is not our experience more often like that of the prophets of Baal? We plead with God to send his power from heaven to heal our friends or to bring those whom we love to see that "The Lord is God", but nothing happens. We plead with God again and again until we are frantic but he does not answer. Is he asleep?

We deal here with mysteries – see Pete Greig's helpful and moving book, God on Mute. But we cannot forget that our God has shown us his power; he has heard and answered prayer. In the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, God has opened heaven and come down to act for us. Jesus laid down his own life as a sacrifice for our sins, and God raised him from the dead. The Lord is God. He has acted for our salvation and he will act for us. We can trust him.

More than that, the living God has poured out his Spirit upon us from heaven. He has set our hearts on fire with love for him and has filled us with a desire that others may come to know him. He also stirs up in our hearts a desire that he would send fire from heaven to revive his people and set them – set us – on fire for God and for his kingdom.

Father God, help me to focus my attention upon the Lord Jesus Christ, the one in whom you have acted to reveal your grace and power. Help me to trust you when you seem silent and inactive. Help me to know that there is nowhere else for me to turn; Jesus alone has the words and power that give eternal life. Fill me with your Spirit and keep me careful never to put out the Spirit's fire in myself or in others.

Jun 23 2013 - Acts 15:1-35 – What must I do to be saved?

In Acts 15 we read that some Jewish Christians travelled from Jerusalem to Antioch saying that if Gentile believers were not circumcised they could not be saved. This teaching was vehemently opposed by Paul and Barnabas who, with a number of others from the church at Antioch, were sent to Jerusalem to get some assurance from the apostles. This is a controversy that will henceforth dominate Paul's ministry.

It’s interesting to note that as Paul and his party made their way through Phoenicia and Samaria towards Jerusalem, “they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad” (15:3). In those days of slow travel, the party would have stayed each night with Christians in whatever village they had come to. So the news of what God was doing in Antioch was spread throughout the intervening Christian communities. We may value our ability to travel quickly across hundreds of miles by plane or by motorway, but perhaps we are missing out on face-to-face sharing of what God has been doing in our corner of the kingdom.

Peter reminded the leaders in Jerusalem of the way in which God had first sent him to preach to a Gentile. When Cornelius and his family believed the message Peter preached, God made no distinction between them and the Jewish believers: they also, through faith, received the Holy Spirit (15:8-9). Peter then underlines his point by turning the whole argument around: he reminds his listeners that they, as Jews, had to come to trust in Christ for salvation just as the Gentiles were now doing. Both Jew and Gentile are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus (15:11).

James, speaking on behalf of the church in Jerusalem, agreed with Peter. He recognised that what was happening in Antioch was the fulfilment of prophecy. It was God’s declared purpose that through the Messiah the Gentiles might seek the Lord and bear his name (15:16-18).

If we are asked what someone must do to be saved, we may well answer as Paul did to the Philippian jailer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." But we need to understand that for the early church the question was not simply, "What must I do to be saved?", but also, "What must someone do to be accepted into fellowship with other believers?" The two were not separate questions. And here we are often not nearly as clear in giving an answer. Are we not often guilty of insisting upon our own additional qualifications for acceptance into fellowship? And in doing so, are we not guilty of acting like the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem who troubled the church at Antioch?

These are hard questions, and I'm not sure that even the Jerusalem Council got this one right. In requiring abstention not only from idol-worship and immorality but also from things strangled and from blood, were not they also seeking to lay unnecessary burdens on Gentile Christians? Was this not the very lesson that Peter was being taught when the sheet full of animals was lowered from heaven and he was told, "Kill and eat"?

We need constantly to examine ourselves that we do not place unnecessary burdens on ourselves or others for acceptance with God and acceptance into the fellowship of his family. It is through Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you have done all that is needed to bring me into fellowship with the living God. May I always see that this is true concerning others as well as myself – they need nothing but you. Keep us from constructing additional barriers to Christian fellowship.

Peter Misselbrook