Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jul 14 2019 - Psalm 91 – God our dwelling

You may remember that a number of weeks ago we looked at Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way… (Psalm 46:1-2)

The theme of Psalm 91 is similar as the psalmist declares, "I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust" (Psalm 91:2). The psalm is full of wonderful pictures of God's care for his people. Those who trust in him need fear for nothing since they have the protection of almighty God surrounding them; "no harm will overtake you" (v. 10).

But how does such protection work in practice? All around the world there are Christians who suffer for their faith; some have had to abandon their homes and flee for safety to other countries, others have lost their lives. And we know that we and our own Christian friends are not immune from the troubles that are common to humanity: sickness and disease; the loss of love ones; financial difficulties and broken relationships. This psalm may seem very comforting, but is it realistic?

Satan used the words of this psalm to tempt Jesus. He took Jesus to a tower of the temple and told him to throw himself down from there, confident that God would protect him. "For it is written", said Satan, "He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone" (Matthew 4:6 quoting Psalm 91:11-12). Jesus responded, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Matt 4:7). But if God has promised these things in his word, how is it putting God to the test to depend on what he has said?

These are not easy questions. However, in the case of Jesus being tempted by Satan, he was clearly reacting to the suggestion that he deliberately put himself in danger to test God's care.

I believe that the promises of this psalm should not be read as a promise of protection from all danger, but a promise of God's presence with us and care for us in all danger. The psalm concludes, "With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation" (v.16). But we all know of Christians, or of children of Christian families, who have died young, and sometimes in pain. For them and for us we can take to heart the words of the apostle Paul who, out of his own experience of persecution, imprisonment and the threat of death wrote:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Christ suffered the traumas of agony and death for us, even feeling himself separated from his loving Father, that we might never be separated from God in life or in death. This is our confidence; God has shown us his salvation and will satisfy us with life in his presence for all eternity.

Father God, we thank you for your great and precious promises and we trust in your protection. Lord Jesus, you have given yourself for us and have gone to glory to prepare a place for us. Spirit of God, thank you that the work you have begun in us – filling our hearts with a sense of God's love for us – you will complete when you bring us safe to glory. Triune God, help us always to trust in your protection and care.

Jul 14 2013 - Romans 2:1-24 – Living the truth

In the previous chapter, Paul has been describing the character of the Gentile world from the perspective of Judaism. One can imagine the discomfort of his Gentile readers and that some of his Jewish readers are now beginning to feel just a little bit smug. But that’s all about to change, for, like an Old Testament prophet, he now turns the focus away from others – ‘them’ – to focus upon his fellow Jews – ‘you’.

It’s fascinating to read what Paul has to say here. One can hear so many echoes of Jesus’ arguments with the Pharisees. And now these same arguments come from one who had lived as a Pharisee; he had known that world from the inside. But he can now see it for what it is in all its shallowness and self-righteous pretence.

The Jews that Paul is describing considered themselves much better than the Gentiles because God has given them his law and shown them clearly the life that is pleasing to him. But, says Paul, it is not knowing the truth that counts for anything but rather, living the truth. Pride in knowing God's word can easily create a people who continually point out the faults in others while being blind to those in themselves. Such people, far from bringing the light and blessing of God to those around them, cause God to be discredited and his word discounted (Romans 1:23-24).

Don’t you realise, says Paul, that God has no favourites. He chose the children of Abraham for the sake of the whole world. He did not reject the other nations but purposed to bless them through Israel. And if his fellow Jews feel they have some priority in God’s sight they had better watch out; it might equally turn out to be a priority in judgment (2:9).

God’s Spirit is at work far more widely and generously than you realise, adds Paul. There are many who have never heard God’s law and yet who live lives marked by grace; unselfish lives devoted to the service of others. They show that God has imprinted upon their conscience an awareness of the life that is pleasing to him.

As we read these words of Paul, it’s easy for us to see just how much Pharisaic Judaism got wrong. Yet in doing so, we easily fall into the same danger of turning the spotlight away from ourselves onto others and finding fault with them so that we might justify ourselves. We need to examine our own hearts to ensure that we are not those who simply take pride in our knowledge of God’s word. We need that word to humble us, to fill us with a sense of wonder at God’s grace and the greatness of his saving purposes. We need this word to shape our lives. Moreover, we need to open our eyes to recognise that God is at work all around us, even among those whom we would not readily recognise as ‘one of us’.

If we have become proud that we are not like other people we have failed to understand the grace of God and the message of Scripture.

Lord God, may your word so shape my heart, mind and life that I may become increasingly like the Lord Jesus. May the character of my life as well as the words of my mouth convey your grace and goodness to those around me. By the power of your Spirit, may my life be a blessing to others and cause your name to be praised and honoured. Keep me always from the subtle, self-deceiving and ugly sin of hypocrisy.

Peter Misselbrook