Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 30 2019 - Psalm 87 – The city of God

Psalm 87 is another of the psalms of the Sons of Korah – the temple singers. It is not surprising then that its subject is the temple mount in Jerusalem, Mount Zion, which, because the temple, God's house, was built there, was also known as the city of God (v. 3).

The psalmist speaks of the way in which God has shown his love for this place by choosing it to be the place of his dwelling among his people. But God's love is not confined to this mountain, nor is it limited to the descendants of Jacob – the children of Israel. God's love would embrace the whole world, embracing even those who have been the traditional enemies of his people. So we read of people from Egypt (here called by its poetic name, Rahab), Philistia, Tyre and Cush (upper Egypt or perhaps the Arabian peninsula), all coming to acknowledge that the God of Israel, the God who reigns from Zion, is the living God and to own him as their God. Nor will they be embraced by God as second-class citizens next to the descendants of Jacob: they will be accepted as if they had been born in this city; they will be registered as having a right to dwell there. They also will join in the praise of the living God, acknowledging that he is the source of all their blessings (v. 7).

This wonderful psalm is truly prophetic. The psalmist has been moved by the Spirit of God to look beyond the situation of his own day and to see the fulfilment of the promise God made to Abraham, "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:3).

It is clear to us that this psalm finds its fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the seed of Abraham through whom people of all nations are being reconciled to God and gathered into his kingdom. Imagine that last day when peoples of every nation, tribe and tongue shall gather around God's throne to unite in praise of God and of the Lamb who has atoned for their sin. Imagine yourself amongst that great throng.

John Newton, the slave trader turned preacher of the gospel, wrote a well-known hymn of praise based on this psalm:

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
He, whose word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for his own abode...

Saviour, if of Zion’s city,
I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy name;
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion’s children know.

Paul echoes the thoughts of this psalm when he writes to Gentile Christians at Ephesus saying: "You were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one" (Ephesians 2:12-14). We have been given new-birth into the family of God's people because of Jesus and his saving work.

Father we thank you for the wonder of your grace; that we who have no natural right to be called your children have been welcomed freely into your family through our Lord Jesus Christ. Enable us by your Spirit to encourage others to come into your kingdom through faith in Christ that it might be filled with people from every nation and background who will join us in praising you.

Jun 30 2013 - Acts 20:1-38 – Caring for the flock of God

Paul is on his way to Jerusalem and knows that he is likely to be taken captive and will not have the freedom to return to many of the churches among whom he has ministered. At Troas the Christians met together with Paul on the first day of the week – celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus as they broke bread together. Paul, knowing that his time with these believers would be limited, preached well into the night. At about midnight, a young man fell asleep and slipped from a window on the third floor, falling to the street. Many thought him dead, but Paul placed his hands on him and picked him up, alive and well. He then returned to the upper room and continued to speak to those gathered there until dawn. Both apostle and congregation had a deep longing to spend time with one another and encourage each other.

Paul had no time to return to Ephesus so he sent a message to the elders of the church to meet with him at the port of Miletus.

One of the finest books on the work of the Christian minister is The Reformed Pastor, written by Richard Baxter in the seventeenth century. His work is an extended practical exposition of Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:18-35.

Paul encouraged the elders of the church to take care of the flock of God which he has purchased with his own blood (a remarkable phrase which finds an echo in some of our great hymns). Paul also reminds them of the example of care that he set for them when he laboured at Ephesus for more than three years. He was not greedy for anyone’s money – he did not minister to line his own pockets. He was careful to teach them everything needful, instructing them both publicly and teaching each family in their own homes (an example followed by Richard Baxter). His message focussed on repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus, and included clear warnings concerning the opposition the new converts might expect to experience.

The Ephesian elders are to continue the work begun by Paul, caring for those over whom the Holy Spirit has given them oversight. Paul warns them to be vigilant, for there will be those who, like fierce wolves, will seek to prey on the flock: there would even be those from within the flock who would seek to lead others astray. But the elders will not be left to do this work on their own. The Holy Spirit who appointed them to this task will equip and empower them for it: Paul entrusts them to God and to the word of his grace which is able to build them up and give them an inheritance among all God’s holy people.

The work of the pastor remains vital to the welfare of the church of God. It is a difficult, demanding and serious task, particularly in this highly individualistic age. It should be characterised by bonds of deep affection between pastor (shepherd) and flock. We see such affection in the tears with which Paul ministered among the Ephesians (20:19, 31), and the tears of the Ephesians as they said farewell to Paul (20:37-38).

Lord Jesus, we pray that those who have been entrusted with the task of caring for your flock, may be good and faithful shepherds. May they follow the pattern laid down by the Apostle Paul, both by example and in the instructions he gave to the Ephesian elders. Above all, we pray that they may faithfully reflect the character of the Good Shepherd. May we always encourage and support them in the work to which you have called them.

Peter Misselbrook