A message from the Superintendent

KEEP ME AS

THE APPLE OF YOUR EYE

Sunday 2 August 2020

Psalm 17:1 – 15 (ESVUK)

 

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!  Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!  From your presence let my vindication come!  Let your eyes behold the right!  You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.  With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.  My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.  I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my words.  Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Saviour of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.  Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me.  They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly.  They have now surrounded our steps; they set their eyes to cast us to the ground.  He is like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush.  Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!  Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, from men by your hand, O Lord, from men of the world whose portion is in this life.  You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants.  As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness. 

 

 

Matthew 14:13 – 21 (ESVUK)

 

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.  When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.  Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”  But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”  They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”  And he said, “Bring them here to me.”  Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.  And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

(Hymns & Psalms 257, Singing the Faith 322)

 

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

In a believer's ear!

It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,

And drives away his fear.

 

It makes the wounded spirit whole,

And calms the troubled breast;

'Tis manna to the hungry soul,

And to the weary, rest.

 

Dear name – the rock on which I build,

My shield and hiding-place,

My never-failing treasury, filled

With boundless stores of grace!

 

Jesus! My Shepherd, Brother, Friend,

My Prophet, Priest and King,

My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,

Accept the praise I bring.

 

Weak is the effort of my heart,

And cold my warmest thought;

But when I see thee as thou art,

I'll praise thee as I ought.

 

Till then I would thy love proclaim

With every fleeting breath;

And may the music of thy name

Refresh my soul in death.

 

John Newton (1725-1807)

Greetings and peace to you in the beautiful name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Quite often, dare I say almost always, we look at a passage of Scripture and consider the setting or context, the background to where it happened, who was there.  We may think about what it could have meant to those who initially read or, more likely, listened to the passage.  Finally we reflect on what the Holy Spirit is saying to us now and what it means today.  But as we look at these verses from Matthew’s Gospel and consider Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the 5000, or as the final verse in the reading most likely alludes to the feeding of the 10,000 or 20,000 plus, let our focus here be solely on Jesus.  As a result of how we reflect on this, our response to the reading can be one, not of ‘what can I get out of this for my life today’, but rather ‘how should I offer my praise and thanksgiving to almighty God for the incredible gift of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour’.

 

There is a verse in John Newton’s hymn ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds’ that is basically one long list of titles, roles and actions of Jesus, with a concluding offering of praise:

‘Jesus! My Shepherd, Brother, Friend,

My Prophet, Priest and King,

My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,

Accept the praise I bring.’

 

This is the sort of response we automatically make when we come to know Jesus and realise just how much we are loved by God through Him.  Indeed this verse by John Newton feeds in, no pun intended, to this passage and the miracle Matthew records for us.  We see Jesus as the Good Shepherd of the masses who flocked to see Him.  We see Jesus as the Brother and Friend, in fact the cousin, of John the Baptist.  We see Jesus as the Prophet challenging the disciples to wake up and understand Who it is that is with them.  We see Jesus as Priest and King giving thanks to God and providing for His people.  We see Jesus as the Living Bread, our Lord who offers Life in all its fullness; a righteous Path or Way to follow and a promised eternity in His gracious presence.  What do we get out of this reading?  Well, let us relish the opportunity in recognising the love of God in Christ to you and me, and in response offer our praise, our service and our lives.

 

We have been considering Jesus’ teaching in parables over these past weeks.  But today’s reading begins with Jesus learning of the horrific death of His cousin John at the hands of King Herod, whose rash oath had set him up to make a dreadful decision.  Jesus is told the news and naturally enough is heartbroken and grief-stricken.  We all respond differently and some of us on receiving bad news will seek out others to share our loss with.  Others may need to take time alone to try and process what has happened or simply to cry our hearts out with only God in attendance.

 

For much of His ministry we see Jesus surrounded by crowds of people.  Some are well-intentioned, others are not.  On this occasion Jesus chooses to leave by boat and journey to a desolate place alone.  It is recorded elsewhere why Jesus did this, as in Mark’s Gospel:

 

‘And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.’ (Mark 1:35)

 

Our response may be much the same.  Stunning, shocking news reaches our ears and our only recourse is to come before God in prayer.

 

Perhaps this was the same boat Jesus had sat in when He taught the crowds thronging the shoreline to listen to Him (Matthew 13:2) and the crowds recognised it.  Whatever the case, the eager crowds on hearing either the news of John’s brutal execution or Jesus’ departure decide to follow Him on foot as quickly as they could.

 

When Jesus reaches His destination rather than being able to spend some time in quiet solitude with God, He discovers that the crowds had got there before Him.  Incredibly, instead of crying out that He needed to be left alone to grieve or getting back into the boat and heading off again, Jesus as the Great and Good Shepherd sees His sheep gathered to meet Him in this desolate place and our Saviour’s heart is moved with compassion to meet their needs and heals their sickness:

 

‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

In a believer's ear!

It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,

And drives away his fear.’

 

As the day draws to a close the disciples are concerned, not perhaps with social distancing, but with crowd management and how such a huge number of people could find food.  They come up with a solution and give Jesus a piece of their good advice:

‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ (Matthew 14:15)

 

Thankfully for the people, Jesus prophetically declares His strong belief on what needs to happen:

 

‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ (Matthew 14:16)

 

Matthew doesn’t tell us whether or not the disciples’ food reserves were the gift of a young boy whose mother or father had sent him out well prepared to see and hear Jesus that day.  What is striking in this story is that all the disciples have, in this case food, they offer to God, in Christ.  Are we now straying into what the miracle means for us today?  The disciples looked around at the crowds and believed that what they had to offer was woefully inadequate.  But not so in the hands of God, in Christ:

‘They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And [Jesus] said, “Bring them here to me.”’ (Matthew 14:17-18)

 

The people are organised to sit in groups on the grass.  Jesus, as our Great High Priest and King, gives thanks to God for what has been offered and breaks the bread and fish into the baskets the disciples held and so they go to share the food with all the 5000, 10,000, or 20,000 plus people.  In that desolate place, just like the people of Israel in their wilderness journey, God, in Christ, is the Great Provider of all that they need:

 

‘It makes the wounded spirit whole,

And calms the troubled breast;

'Tis manna to the hungry soul,

And to the weary, rest.’

 

As the people are fed, and not just an amount that wouldn’t fill a tooth; not just enough to keep hunger at bay; but until they were fully satisfied, we learn that any number of people could have been fed that day!  Once everyone has eaten, the disciples gather up 12 baskets full of food, which may also remind us of the 12 tribes of Israel.  The Lord Jesus, as Messiah, feeds all the people of God.  There is no exclusive treatment for any tribe or individual.  This astounding miracle, and is there any other kind, demonstrates the completeness of the life giving, life sustaining, life preserving and life affirming love of God for all that He has made:

‘Dear name – the rock on which I build,

My shield and hiding-place,

My never-failing treasury, filled

With boundless stores of grace!’

 

The grace of God is overwhelming, if only we would accept and receive it.  We don’t have to do anything but believe that all this has been given for us.  Certainly we may respond and offer God all that we have, even if only five loaves and two fishes, and God can and will use us in His service.  Yet we need to be clear, we cannot buy or earn God’s grace.  It is freely given on account of God’s love for us all.

 

In reading the words of Psalm 17 we see that this is true with David’s descriptions of God’s steadfast love and care.  Let us not be distracted if David appears here to be somewhat overconfident in his own righteousness; that God will find no fault in him; no transgression in what he says.  You don’t have to read too far into David’s story to find all manner of frailties and failings.  And as for avoiding the ways of the violent, it appears at times David met them head on with equal or even overwhelming force.  Slippery slopes abound along life’s way too and often David goes headlong down each one!  Perhaps what he says here is that he was reassured and secure in the relationship he had with God.  It is more helpful to consider that this contentment was all because of God and all in spite of David.  Here we get to focus on what is really important which is the love and grace of God.  It is God’s actions and attributes that enable David to have confidence, even in the most extreme of circumstances.  It is the same for us. God hears our cry; sees our need; and knows our heart.  This is to our eternal comfort.  We can rely on God’s steadfast love.

 

David made his share of mistakes, but he knew his Saviour. He knew in times of trouble there would be refuge in God’s powerful right hand.  David provides us with the most beautiful imagery of our heavenly Father’s love and care.  Within the shadow of God’s wings, like a hen with her chicks, there is security and safety from the extremes of the sun’s heat during the day and the bitter cold of night.

 

Has this been our experience of God?  We can have the reassurance that in our need God can deliver, rescue and save us.  Perhaps we doubt that God could truly love us, even as we stand before Him with our small offering of loaves and fishes; that is all that we are and all that we have:

 

‘Weak is the effort of my heart,

And cold my warmest thought;

But when I see thee as thou art,

I'll praise thee as I ought.’

 

Well, just as Moses’ song to the people of Israel reminded them of their place in God’s affections, where the ‘him’ referred to in this verse is Jacob or Israel, the collective word for God’s people:

 

‘[God] found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.’ (Deuteronomy 32:10)

 

So David also uses this wonderful picture, that for you and me we are the apple of God’s eye, we are at the very centre of God’s thoughts and concerns, His care and compassion.  The pupil of God’s eye, the very focus is fixed on you and me:

 

‘Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,’ (Psalm 17:8)

 

Let us place our confidence in this, for our heavenly Father knows, sees, hears and cares.  We may question at times all that is happening around us.  We may wonder what God wants of us and how we are to serve Him.  David felt the same when he saw people apparently triumphing over him.  Yet he realised that whatever his loss and whatever was their gain, it was only in this life, the here and now, which all too quickly is gone.  In his dark and difficult moments, which were many, David found comfort in the revelation of everlasting love and grace holding him as the apple of God’s eye.  By faith and even in passing through death, resurrection glory was assured for David and equally for you and for me, for all who believe:

 

‘Till then I would thy love proclaim

With every fleeting breath;

And may the music of thy name

Refresh my soul in death.’

 

Through God’s astounding grace to us in Jesus Christ we ask that our lives and our praises will be acceptable in His sight, until finally on that resurrection morning when we awake to see God’s face, we will find ourselves still as the apple of God’s eye:

‘As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.’ (Psalm 17:15)

 

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.

Truro Methodist Circuit, Cornwall    |   01872 262907