Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 28 2019 - 2 Kings 4:1-37 – Widow's oil and a son raised

During the drought in the time of Elijah, the prophet had lodged with a widow and her son in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. In response to Elijah's promise and prayers, her nearly exhausted jar of flour and jug of oil continued to supply the needs of her household until the drought was over. Later, Elijah had raised her son from the dead (see 1 Kings 17). Elisha had been given the same spirit that was at work through Elijah. In today's chapter we see him being the source of similar miraculous aid.

First there is the story of a widow of one of the prophets who is being pursued by creditors who are threatening to take her two sons into slavery. The woman turns to Elisha for help – or perhaps we should say that she turns to God for help through his prophet Elisha. She reminds Elisha of the godly character of her late husband. She has only a small jar of olive oil but, at Elisha's command borrows many empty jars from her neighbours. In faith she fills every jar from her meagre supply. She is then able to sell the oil, pay off her debts and have money left to live on. God had supplied all her needs in answer to her faith and through the power of his Spirit at work through Elisha.

Perhaps we feel that we have neither the power of Elisha nor the faith of this widow. We may feel that we are empty vessels, but we trust in the same God who is unchanging in faithfulness and mercy. He is as able to fill us with his Spirit as he was able to fill those empty pots. He is able to supply all our needs and equip us to serve him.

Then we read of a woman in Shunem who having met and got to know Elisha tells her husband, "I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God" (v.9). What had she heard in Elisha's conversation and in his behaviour that caused her to speak so definitely about him? What do those who hear our conversation and see how we live and behave make of us? What do they say to others about us?

The Shunemite woman provided Elisha with a room to stay in whenever he was passing her way. She and her husband had not been able to have children, but at Elisha's word she became pregnant and, in due time, gave birth to a son. A few years later the child was with his father in the fields with the reapers. The child became ill and died but Elisha, through prayer, was able to raise the boy to life again.

Few of us have ever witnessed miracles like these. Many of us have suffered the loss of people whom we have dearly loved – sometimes an untimely loss. We may have longed that they could be restored to us but no amount of our prayer can bring them back.

But the raising of this child to life again by the power of God points us forward to a better known resurrection. The Lord Jesus Christ was a child who owed his birth to a far greater miracle than that experienced by the Shunemite woman. His life was cruelly, and it would seem prematurely, taken from him. But God raised him from the dead. Moreover, his resurrection was not like that of the child in today's reading. That child may have lived to a grand old age but it was only to face death in the end. The Lord Jesus has conquered death and all its terrors.

And we who trust in the Lord Jesus know that even though we may face death – as each of us must if Jesus does not come again in our lifetime – yet we also shall share in his bodily resurrection. We shall share in the glory of his kingdom and be reconciled with those whom we love who have also died trusting in Christ. Death does not have the last word: death also shall die.

Father God, give us the faith that trusts you even when we face disappointment and loss. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the hope we have in him. Fill us with your Spirit that our words, and the character of our lives, may bear testimony to the fact that we know and serve the living God. May we also be used to bring blessing to the lives of those around us.

Jun 28 2013 - Acts 18:24-19:20 – The value of a teachable spirit

Apollos is a remarkable character. When he arrives at Ephesus he seems to have had a somewhat incomplete knowledge of the Christian message. He knew about John the Baptist and how he had preached about the one who was to follow him. He may have known that John pointed his disciples to Jesus, speaking of him as “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” But he appears not to have known of Jesus’ death and resurrection, nor of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless he preached boldly in the synagogue at Ephesus, full of zeal for what he knew of Jesus the Messiah.

However, what is really remarkable about this man is that, while he was clearly a powerful speaker and a forceful personality, he was also ready to sit and to learn from others who had a more complete understanding of the Gospel. I am also struck by the way in which Priscilla and Aquila are referred to; Priscilla’s name is mentioned first indicating, perhaps, that she took on the primary role in teaching Apollos more about Jesus. The readiness of Apollos to listen and learn from Priscilla and Aquila equipped him to go on to Corinth and to build up the church there, continuing the work which Paul had begun.

It is good to have zeal for the Lord and a passion for telling others about him, but it is important also to have a teachable spirit, a readiness to learn from others and not to think that we already know it all.

And then we have the account of Paul’s arrival at Ephesus. There he found a group of disciples who seemed only to have heard of the baptism of John. They are called disciples, indicating that, in some sense, they believed in Jesus. But, like Apollos, they may only have known what John preached concerning the one who was coming after him; they may have known nothing of Jesus’ death and resurrection – certainly they knew nothing about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Having no doubt taught them about Jesus more accurately, Paul baptised them and then laid his hands on them. They also received the Holy Spirit.

This passage seems to raise a number of awkward questions: How much do you need to understand to be a disciple? Under what circumstances might a baptism be viewed as defective and in need of being repeated? Did Paul get it right?

I suspect that none of these momentous questions troubled Paul. He saw a group of people who were seeking to be faithful to what they knew concerning the promised Messiah. Paul was keen for them to know so much more – that Christ had come; Christ had died; Christ was risen. He wanted them to enter into the fullness of the blessings poured out by the risen Christ: to know through their baptism that Christ had died for them and they had died in him; that Christ had been raised for them and that they shared in his resurrection life. Paul wanted them to experience the presence and power of the risen Saviour through the Holy Spirit poured out into their lives. Is this also our great concern?

Lord, give me an unquenchable zeal to proclaim Christ but also a teachable spirit and a readiness to listen and learn from others. Equip me through such listening and learning to become more effective in your service. Use me, as you used Priscilla and Aquila, Paul and Apollos, to encourage and build up your people. May we all know the fullness of the blessings of the crucified, risen and exalted Messiah.

Peter Misselbrook