Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 2 2019 - Isaiah 1:1-28 – A rebellious nation

Today we start one of the major prophetic books of the Old Testament, the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah ministered during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (1:1).

These years were marked by growing threats from surrounding nations such as Assyria in the north and Egypt in the south. These empires were competing with one another to gain control over surrounding lands, and especially Israel and the land of Judah where Isaiah was prophesying.

Meanwhile, the people of the land, instead of turning to the Lord in repentance, faith and obedience, continued to live rebellious lives. God says of his people:

I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. (1:2-3)

They have, "forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel" (v.4).

By speaking of God as "the Holy One of Israel", Isaiah is seeking to underline the fact that the Lord God of Israel is a God of burning holiness who expects his people to reflect his own character – to be a holy people. Instead the people are oppressing one another and treading roughshod over the widows and the fatherless (vv.17,23). In particular, their rulers are leading the way in corruption (v.23). No wonder the Lord their God has left the land to be ravaged by foreign raiders (v.7).

Because of his people's unfaithfulness and rebellion; God has no time for their worship. When they bring animals for sacrifice at the temple, in God's eyes (or ears), this is a mere "trampling of my courts" (v.12). It is useless to oppress others and then come piously before God in prayer. God says, "Even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening" (v.15). The behaviour of his people has become like that of Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 9 and 10), and they deserve the same fate.

But God does not want to leave his people to be destroyed. He has reared and brought them up like children; he loves them. God wants them to turn to him again in repentance and obedience.

‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD.
‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land;
but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’
  For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (vv.18-20)

Jerusalem the once "faithful city has become a prostitute" (v.21). God plans to come in judgment against them, but it is to purge away their dross and remove their impurities (v.25). The fire of God's judgment will be a refining fire after which Jerusalem/Zion, "will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City" (v.26).

We too are, by nature and self-inclination, rebels against God. He is holy and we are not. But the wonder of the Christian message is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. He is the perfect sacrifice for sin – a sacrifice pleasing to God his Father. Jesus has settled the matter on our behalf and through his shed blood our sins which were scarlet have been washed away and we are made whiter than snow. His Spirit is now at work within us to refine us like gold and to purge away all that cannot live in his holy presence (see 1 Peter 1:7).

Thank you Father for your great love for us, even when we were rebels against you. Thank you Lord Jesus for your shed blood through which our sins are washed away. Holy Spirit, continue your refining work in our lives that we might be holy even as you, our triune God, are holy.

Aug 2 2013 - Romans 15:22-16:2 – A vision for the kingdom

Paul was a man with a plan. It seems strange for us to read that he considered that he had fully proclaimed the Gospel of Christ from Jerusalem all the way round to Illyricum/Albania (Romans 15:19) and that there was no place more for him to work in these regions (15:23) so that he was now wanting to go to Spain via Rome.

Did Paul really believe that the work of the Gospel was complete in that large part of the Roman world of his day? No, but he did believe that his work was complete. Paul had a clear strategy of seeking to plant churches at key centres in the various regions so that the Gospel would be spread by and from those churches. He did not see it as his mission to preach personally to every inhabitant of the region. If he had, he would have robbed the churches of their own ministry – and he would not have got beyond the borders of Judea. No, Paul was a strategic church planter and he wanted now to take the Gospel to Spain. He wanted always to go where no one had gone before, so that he might preach Christ to those who had not yet had opportunity to hear of him.

In 1962, Roland Allen wrote his seminal book, Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? He suggested that our failure to learn from Paul’s missionary methods had stultified the growth of the church and led to church planting which sought to control rather than empower those to whom the gospel had been taken. Our missionary methods have all too often reflected an imperial model rather than that of the kingdom. We have much to learn from Paul.

But Paul was also aware that his plans might not work out as he wished. He was on his way to Jerusalem and knew that he would encounter trouble there. He therefore asked the Christians in Rome to join him in struggling in prayer that he might be kept safe from those who threatened him and that he might be free then to visit them “in the full measure of the blessing of Christ” (15:29). Prayer is a vital element in kingdom warfare.

We know that Paul was taken captive in Jerusalem and that from there he was eventually taken as a captive to Rome. We do not know whether he ever managed to go to Spain – some suggest that he was freed and had opportunities for further ministry before again being taken captive.

Paul’s life and vision are a challenge to us. We also need to have large views concerning the Gospel and a burning sense of the need for all the world to hear of Jesus Christ. Even if we are not called to be a missionary or a strategic church planter, we are reminded that we also share in the task of making Christ known. That is what Paul expected of the Christians in the churches he planted as he left them to make an impact on their own areas and to establish the kingdom of God in their part of the Roman Empire. That is the task that Christ has given to us also. Paul knew that it would require prayer as well as action, serious prayer as part of the warfare against the powers of this present age.

Lord, enlarge my vision that it may be as large as your saving plans. Give me a passion for Christ and his kingdom like the passion that drove the apostle Paul. Help me to be a faithful witness to Christ; help me to build your kingdom today. Help me to be serious about prayer; wrestling in prayer until your kingdom comes and your will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Peter Misselbrook