Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 13 2019 - Jeremiah 2:1-22, 32 – Broken cisterns

A number of years ago, my wife went to the wedding of a work colleague who, along with her husband to be, were both Christians, though many others attending the wedding were not. One of the hymns they chose for the wedding included the memorable verse:

I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,
  But, ah, the waters failed!
E’en as I stooped to drink they fled,
  And mocked me as I wailed.

My wife wondered what on earth her non-Christian colleagues made of these very strange words!

The picture expressed in that hymn comes from today's passage. Jeremiah 2:13 reads:

My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

A "cistern" was a hole constructed to hold water, whether dug in the open ground or fashioned from an underground cavern. In dry countries such as Judah they would be used to collect water during the wet season and to store it for use during a dry season. Cracked or broken cisterns that could not hold water were useless and life-threatening. Through Jeremiah, God accuses his people of a double folly; they have turned their back on the Lord who is the source of life-giving, plentiful and unfailing water and have turned to to idols, broken cisterns of their own making.

God's reminds his people of their first devotion to him when he rescued them from Egypt and led them through the wilderness (2:1-2). We might argue that even then, Israel were a rebellious people, but now they have unashamedly turned to worthless idols. "What fault did your ancestors find in me" says the Lord, "that they strayed so far from me?" (v.5). Why have they turned away from the Lord who brought them out of Egypt, through the desert and into this fertile land? (vv.6-7). Even their leaders have abandoned the Lord and their prophets prophesy by Baal (v.8). Surely, says God, no other nation has "ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols" (v.11). The Lord's complaint concludes:

Does a young woman forget her jewellery,
    a bride her wedding ornaments?
Yet my people have forgotten me,
    days without number. (v.32)

Let me return to the strange words of that hymn with which I began. The hymn is not as strange as it might seem from the verse quoted and is worth reading through in full. It has a wonderful chorus:

Now none but Christ can satisfy,
  None other name for me;
There’s love and life and lasting joy,
    Lord Jesus, found in Thee.

Jesus spoke of himself as the source of living water – of abundant blessings to satisfy the thirsty soul. How sad that so many turn away from Christ to seek satisfaction in what their own hands can fashion or the world tells them will bring satisfaction.

Father God, we thank you for the Lord Jesus in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Keep our hearts from turning away from Christ. Help us rather to draw others to him who is our life, our hope and our delight.

Aug 13 2013 - 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 – Knowing God

“Knowledge leads to arrogance whereas love builds others up” says Paul at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 8. Some Christians in Corinth seem to have argued that since there is only one God, idols are of utterly no significance. They proudly paraded their knowledge by joining in feasts in idol temples and seem to have been encouraging others to join them. Their conduct was damaging the faith of others; they are wounding and destroying others for whom Christ died.

Paul condemns such behaviour. Their theology of idols may be correct, but their conduct demonstrates that they have failed to understand the gospel with its focus in a crucified Lord. They are too keen on their own rights, loudly insisting on what they have the power to do rather than being concerned for others. They need to learn the lesson of love; love which is always concerned for the other; love which builds up and does not tear down.

Theology has become a bit of a dirty word in contemporary society. The term can be used to trash the arguments of an opponent as ‘just so much theology’ – meaning that it is pointless theory, like arguing over the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. But in his book, Christ, the Meaning of History, Hendrikus Berkhof writes that theology is a form of loving God with the mind. God calls us to understand the things he has revealed in his word, but not with the cold and proud grasp of logic but with the devotion of our hearts – with wonder, love and praise.

To know God is to know the love he has displayed for us in Christ. God has displayed his wisdom and power not in a crushing display of his glory but in the broken body of a crucified Saviour. To know God is to know him as self-giving love. Such knowledge transforms us into the likeness of his Son. It cannot make us proud to display our superior knowledge before others; it will break us and humble us and will empower us to love and serve others, just as Christ gave himself entirely for others – for us.

We see this pattern in the life of the apostle Paul. He had once been a leading member of the Pharisees, proud of his understanding of the Scriptures and determined to crush those whose views were not in line with his own. But then he met the Lord Jesus Christ and was transformed by that encounter. The love of Christ now shapes his life, making him ready to forego anything that could be a barrier to making Christ known; “if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13).

Have we so learnt Christ? Are there times when we are more concerned to win an argument than to encourage a brother or sister in devotion to Christ? Proud knowledge is both ugly and toxic; it can damage your health – and that of those around you who breathe it in.

Father God, forgive me that there are times when I can be proud in my pretended knowledge of you and look down on those who do not yet understand things as I do. In this I confess that I do not know you at all. Help me to learn more of Christ and to be transformed into his likeness. Help me to love you with my mind and to serve you with all that I am and have. Help me by your Spirit to follow Christ and give myself to the service and blessing of others.

Peter Misselbrook