Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 3 2019 - Isaiah 2:1-18; 4:2-6 – God's purpose beyond judgment

The section we have read from Isaiah 2 is a chapter of contrasts. The picture of the nations streaming up to Jerusalem to learn God's ways and walk in his paths is very similar to that painted by Micah (see Micah 4:1-4). The people of Judah believed that in the last days God would visit his people and pour out his blessings upon them – blessings that would flow out into all the earth.

God had called the descendants of Abraham to be a light to the nations – a people through whom all the world would come to see the glory of the God of Jacob and come in faith to him. At the moment Israel is surrounded by hostile nations, but in those last days, they argued, the nations would abandon their warfare and come in peace to worship the Lord and listen to his word.

Isaiah takes this prophetic picture, which was treasured by the people of Judah, and turns it into a message of judgment. He begins by declaring, "Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord" (2:5). They can hardly hope to be a light to the Gentiles and encourage them to walk in God's ways if they are failing to do so themselves. As someone has wisely remarked, "You can't sell what you haven't got!"

Isaiah then goes on to show that far from being a light to the Gentiles – teaching others of the living God – God's people are adopting all kinds of pagan practices from their neighbours: "They are full of superstitions from the East; they practise divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs" (2:6).

In place of the glorious last days they have longed for, the Lord is planning a day of judgment for his people (2:12). It is a day when all that is exalted will be humbled: "The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear" (2:17-18). Judgment will begin with the people of God (note how 2:10 later finds an echo in Revelation 6:16). Their idols will be stripped away so that these people may become the source of blessing to the world, just as God intended.

Isaiah 4 returns to the theme of the day that is coming. "In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel", writes Isaiah (4:2). What or who is this "Branch of the Lord"? This term is used to point to the Messiah in his kingly and priestly offices (see Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12). The picture is a bit like a branch in a family tree. Here is one who is going to come from David's line and will wash away the filth of his people and "cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire" (4:4). He will come in judgment, but it is judgment that will purify and cleanse. "Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night" (4:5). The Lord will be visibly present among his people as when he led them through the wilderness by the pillar of fire and smoke.

We know that these prophetic scriptures find their fulfilment and realisation in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lord come to visit his people and he is David's greater Son. He has come to cleanse his people from their sin, providing cleansing through the shedding of his own blood. Now he comes to us in the power of his Spirit like a blazing fire which burns away all the filth of our uncleanness so that he might "present [us] to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:27). And his Spirit remains within us to assure us that Christ our risen Saviour is always with us, leading us in the path he would have us walk.

Father God, we thank you for the Lord Jesus and for the forgiveness and cleansing that is to be found in him. Help us by your Spirit to walk in the ways you have prepared for us, following in the footsteps of the Saviour himself. And may the glorious fire and light of your presence so fill us that others may come to learn of the living God whom we know and love. So may your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Aug 3 2020 - Mark 11:27-12:17 – By what authority…?

The Temple authorities did not take kindly to Jesus driving the traders out of the Temple. They challenged him with the question, "By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you authority to do this?" (Mark 11:28). Jesus does not give them a direct answer, but asks them in return by what authority John had baptised the crowds who had come to him, was it from heaven or from men? The authorities are caught in their own trap. If they say that John was sent from God they must then accept the authority of the one for whom John had prepared the way. If they say that John had no authority they fear that they will lose all credibility with the people. So they answer, "We do not know."

Jesus has challenged them to think again about the issue of authority. They are used to the hierarchy of formal authority structures and the decisions which flow from the endless deliberation of their councils. By his question, Jesus suggests that these are mere human constructs. True, Jesus may not fit into their hierarchy of power but neither did John. His authority came directly from God; it was prophetic authority – and the people recognised it. Jesus wanted the Jewish leaders to see that his authority also was not from men; it could neither be given to him by them, nor could they strip him of his authority. His authority came from the one who had declared, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

But the Jewish authorities will not even consider such a possibility. It would amount to a denial, or at least denigration, of their own authority. Their answer was therefore determined by pure pragmatism; it was governed by the calculation of what would follow if they gave a particular response. They did not seem concerned to weigh up the truth of the matter and to answer and act in accordance with the truth. They were concerned simply to protect their own world.

How can these people have been so blind and foolish? The things that Jesus did and the things that he said bore clear witness to who he was, to the authority he possessed and to the one who gave him that authority. But they seem incapable of seeing it.

But are there times when we also act pragmatically, seeking to preserve ourselves, our position and our comforts rather than responding to the truth and the demands of God? It's always easier to see the faults and stratagems of others than it is to know ourselves. Are there times when we are quick to reject the ministry of someone because they are not part of our group and don’t fit in with the way we do things? Do we reject what they say and the things they do without considering whether God may be at work through them? Are there times when we are driven into a corner by a determination to defend ourselves from all criticism? At such times, we are acting like the Jewish leaders and turning a blind eye to the truth.

Heavenly Father, keep me from the conceit of thinking that I am the guardian and arbiter of the truth. Open my eyes to see what you are doing in this world through the Spirit of the risen Saviour. Open my eyes to see the evidence of your grace at work and open my heart to rejoice that you are not bound by human constructs or limited by our petty organisations and committees. Lord Jesus, come to this temple and overturn all my self-serving prejudices and productions. Drive out all that cannot cohabit with your holy presence. Help me to know and rejoice in the generous truth that is found in you and to enjoy the freedom that comes from living in the light of that truth.

Peter Misselbrook