Genesis 43

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Genesis 43

1 Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.” 11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man. 14 May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” 15 So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” 19 So they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the door of the house, 20 and said, ”Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. 21 And when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it again with us, 22 and we have brought other money down with us to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” 23 He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. 24 And when the man had brought the men into Joseph’s house and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkeys fodder, 25 they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there. 26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. 27 And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves.29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30 Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” 32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.

We have all seen people standing on street corners holding signs and asking for help. Shane Clairborne has written about one he saw that struck him as particularly poignant.

In fact, one of the best cardboard signs for panhandling that I’ve come across was one made by a dear friend who found himself in hard times standing on a street corner.  The sign simply read “In need of grace.”[1]

We could all hold a sign like that!

Philip Yancey has reported something interesting that happened at an Oxford conference on comparative religion.

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world were discussing whether any one belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. In his forthright manner Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eightfold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.[2]

Yes! That is true! And that is good news because the one need we all have is the need for grace, the need to know that we are forgiven and loved even though we are guilty in our sins and trespasses. Grace is at the heart of the gospel. It is also at the heart of our story, the story of Joseph’s guilty brothers unknowingly being hosted by him in Egypt. And this makes sense. It makes sense for, as we have seen, Joseph is a type and picture of Christ, a marker who pointed Israel to the Jesus who was to come and who points us to Jesus even today.

We need grace, but let us ask this question of our text: how do we receive grace?

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Matthew 10:8-15

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Matthew 10

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

The old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” sure has fallen on hard times. Back in 1986 an LA Times article reported the following:

Revising a church hymnal is a sure way to orchestrate dissonance, a national Methodist editing committee has found out.

“Onward Christian Soldiers,” with its marching beat and exhortation to battle for Jesus, was considered too militaristic so the committee voted it out, along with another hymn that refers to warfare, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

But, in a crescendo of protest, thousands of militant church members who wanted the longtime favorites included in a new songbook browbeat the committee last week into voting the hymns back in.

The hymnal editor said the controversy was the largest ever to rattle the rafters of the 9.1-million-member United Methodist Church.[1]

Some years later this happened:

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have admitted that, given substantially heightened tensions around religiously-motivated violence, there is no place for the song “Onward Christian Soldiers” in the Seventh-day Adventist hymnal.

“Our history as a church of conscientious objectors opposed to taking up arms makes singing Onward Christian Soldiers around the world on Sabbath morning the ultimate contradiction,” said General Conference Music Historian, Bitto Late.

Late said that the hymn has already been deleted from the online Adventist hymnal and that the General Conference invited Adventists around the world to tear the “ultra-violent” song out of physical hymn books at their earliest convenience.

“To Muslims and Jews, any song about Christian soldiers is anything but a bridge builder so this song has got to go,” said Late. “And while we’re at it, we’re banning Adventist pastors from describing evangelistic efforts as crusades.”[2]

Then in 2017 we read:

A vicar has dropped the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers from a Remembrance Sunday service next month because of the participation of non-Christians in the commemoration…

The Rev. Steve Bailey of St Peter’s church made the decision with the agreement of the local branch of the British Legion. It will be replaced with another hymn, All People That On Earth Do Dwell.

In a statement released by the diocese of Leicester, Bailey said: “We agreed the change in hymn with the Oadby Royal British Legion who run this major civic occasion because members of the community from a wide range of cultural backgrounds attend this event, which is a parade, a service in church and laying of wreaths at the war memorial.”[3]

So it seems as if for at least thirty-five years the idea of “Christian soldiers” has become pretty problematic for a number of Christian groups.

I would argue that S. Baring-Gould’s original hymn is not, of course, about actual armies and battles between human beings but rather about the church advancing the gospel against the Satanic forces of darkness. This stanza seems to capture well what Baring-Gould was writing about:

Like a mighty army
moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading
where the saints have trod;
We are not divided;
all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
one in charity.[4]

In point of fact, the idea of Christians as “soldiers” is firmly attested to in passages like Philippians 2:25, 2 Timothy 2:3-4, and Philemon 2. And this is an important image. Yes, it needs to be rightly defined, but it is indeed important.

In Matthew 10 Jesus sends His disciples out on a mission. He sends them out as a conquering army, but one conquering the hearts of men and women with the gospel of peace and love and one whose weapon is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He tells them that they will face intense opposition but that they must not waver from their mission. Let us consider, then, how the disciples of Jesus are to conduct themselves in their mission as the army of God.

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Genesis 42

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Genesis 42

When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them. And he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” 10 They said to him, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.” 12 He said to them, “No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.” 13 And they said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.” 14 But Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you. You are spies. 15 By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” 17 And he put them all together in custody for three days. 18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. 21 Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” 22 And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” 23 They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. 24 Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 25 And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them. 26 Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. 27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. 28 He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” 29 When they came to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us and took us to be spies of the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we have never been spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father. One is no more, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.’ 33 Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I shall know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your households, and go your way. 34 Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I shall know that you are not spies but honest men, and I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land.’” 35 As they emptied their sacks, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack. And when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid. 36 And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” 37 Then Reuben said to his father, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” 38 But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.”

He was 30 years old when he began his great ministry that would result in the salvation of the world.

He was wrongfully imprisoned.

He was punished with two other men accused of wrongdoing.

One of the men was saved. The other was not.

He was brought up out of the pit and given a position of glory.

He showed amazing grace to those who did not deserve it.

I am talking, of course, about Joseph, the son of Jacob, in Egypt.

Were you thinking of somebody else? But of course! For even though everything I just said about Joseph is biblically true and scripturally backed up, we know that it was but a foreshadowing and type of the greater Savior to come, Jesus the Christ.

The gospel—the good news of God sending His Son to die in the place of lost humanity so that we, by grace through faith, can be saved—is so powerful, is so wonderful, and is so stitched into the very fabric and tapestry of the human story that shades and shadows of it can be seen throughout the Old Testament scriptures, indeed, throughout the stories of many of the world’s cultures! It is as if the world unknowingly and imperfectly kept telling the story of the Jesus who was to come even before He came because that story, the gospel, is the very heartbeat of the world and is the world’s greatest need.

Many pagan cultures have told stories of dying and rising gods. And almost every culture has told stories of unlikely heroes who overcome amazing odds to save those who are suffering. These stories were, again, imperfectly told, of course, but the broad strokes were there time and time again. And then in the history of Israel the story was told in ways that became increasingly in focus: still incomplete, but closer to what would be in the coming of Jesus. These stories were told every time an animal was sacrificed for the sins of the people, every time the hands of a priest were put on the head of a goat symbolically transferring the sins of Israel onto the head of the goat who would carry the people’s sins away, and every time the great high priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the temple to stand before the God of heaven and earth on behalf of and in intercession for the people.

Yes, the story of Jesus is so fundamental to the world that the world has been straining to tell it in shadows and types without even knowing all that it was saying. We have seen glimpses of it already in Jesus and we see many many hints of the gospel in the account of Joseph in Egypt. Some of these hints I mentioned at the beginning. But in the record of Joseph’s brothers coming to Egypt for food the foreshadowing seems to take on a power and poignancy that is undeniable.

Think of it: the offending brothers now journey to Egypt where they will unknowingly stand before the brother they threw in a pit and then sold into bondage. This is a story, in other words, of those who need forgiveness standing before one who can give it to them.

This is the story of the gospel told before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. This is the gospel in shadows and types, the gospel in broad strokes.

In time, many years after this, Jesus will come and the concrete reality of the gospel will eclipse these foreshadowings. But the story of Joseph played its part and plays its part still: it shows us the heart of God in preparation for the incarnation of the Son of God in due time.

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Matthew 10:1-7

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Matthew 10

1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 

Did you know that there are numerous national as well as an international town crier competitions? I kid you not! In these competitions, predominantly old men (it would appear from the clips on YouTube anyway) dress as old timey town criers, stand on a stoop, ring their bells, hold aloft their royal statements, and cry the news to the watching crowds! I love the idea of a town crier. Here is a little information on this fascinating relic form the past:

In medieval England, town criers were the chief means of news communication with the townspeople, since many were illiterate in a period before the moveable type was invented. Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, even selling loaves of sugar were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier throughout the centuries—at Christmas 1798, the Chester Canal Company sold some sugar damaged in their packet boat and this was to be advertised by the bellman.

The crier also escorted the destitute to the workhouse, installed minor criminals in the stocks and administered floggings. During public hangings he read out why the person was being hanged, and helped to cut him or her down…

The term “Posting A Notice” comes from the act of the town crier, who having read his message to the townspeople, would attach it to the door post of the local inn. Some newspapers took the name “The Post” for this reason.

Town criers were protected by law, as they sometimes brought bad news such as tax increases. Anything done by the town crier was done in the name of the ruling monarch and harming a town crier was considered to be treason. The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” was a real command.[1]

So criers stood as official representatives of the King or governing authority. They were, in essence, his mouthpiece to announce good news.

There is something profoundly New Testament about this. Rightly understood, we are God’s town criers! The church is the town crier of the Kingdom! We stand under the authority of the King and speak loudly and clearly His announcement of good news throughout the world! Those who receive this good news, receive it to life and those who reject it reject it to judgment. But the crier must do his or her job regardless.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends the disciples out as His town criers. Let us consider their mission.

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Genesis 41:37-57

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Genesis 41

37 This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt. 46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. 47 During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, 48 and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. 49 And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. 50 Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” 52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”  53 The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.” 56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

I have a natural suspicion of Christian mantras. I rarely disagree with them properly defined. It is just that these mantras, as they are repeated and, inevitably, commercialized and monetized, tend to take on the air of talismans in a lot of popular usage. That is, they become almost magical incantations in the popular mind that are recited for good luck.

Some of these mantras include:

  • WWJD?
  • Jesus take the wheel.
  • Not today Satan!
  • Won’t He do it?!

These mantras have a long history in Christianity. Think, for instance, of “the Jesus prayer” that many Christians say over and over and over: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” That prayer seems to have emerged out of 5th century Christian devotional practice. I of course cannot object in any way to saying sincerely “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Properly handled that is a powerful and beautiful prayer. But, again, it must not be reduced to some kind of talisman, the mere recitation of which supposedly brings you good fortune or the favor of God. Prayers need to be meant, not manipulated.

Another popular Christian mantra is “Let go and let God.” Yes, this too can be abused, especially if it used to justify complete passivity in the Christian life, thereby undercutting the Christian disciplines and Christian effort. But, properly understood, it means letting go of our own ambitions and need to control and trusting that God will work in and through us to accomplish His own ends. Properly understood, “Let go and let God” is a helpful idea. And properly understood, I believe we see “Let go and let God” demonstrated rightly in the latter half of Genesis 41.

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Matthew 9:35-38

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Matthew 9

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ”The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

The first time I ever went to Honduras I was emotionally overwhelmed. I had never seen such poverty but I had also never seen such joy as I saw reflected in the faces of those dear people. It was a powerful reality to behold and, throughout the week, I was deeply touched and moved.

I remember on one occasion on that first trip standing on a high place above the village in which we were working. I, along with a friend, was standing and looking down at the village and at all the people moving about its streets. I was also looking at the long line of people who had lined up early that morning to see the doctors and nurses in our team.

I recall standing there in silence taking it all in. My heart was full to overflowing with love for the people and love for Honduras and, above all else, love for the God who made and loves us all! It was a pure moment. A powerful moment. My friend was standing next to me, likewise in silence.

After some moments, I broke the silence with, “Man, just look at that.”

He nodded knowingly and then responded from some deep place within him: “I know, man. I know. You know, that land would make an unbelievable golf course.”

I looked at him in disbelief and said, “What?!”

My friend and I have laughed at the absurdity of that statement over the many years since he said it. I hasten to add that he is a dear brother who loves the Lord and loved those people and served them well that week. But, somehow, in that moment, we were looking at two very different things!

When Jesus looked at the crowds, His heart was stirred and moved within Him. He felt deep compassion. Our text bears that out. It speaks of His ministry, of His burden, and of His calling of His disciples to join Him in loving the lost. It all raises an important question: what do you see when you see the masses?

In fact, I believe it raises three questions. I ask these questions out of the conviction that the church is the body of Christ—“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27)—and therefore should be about what Christ was about.

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Genesis 41:1-36

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Genesis 41

1 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, 11 we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. 12 A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. 13 And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.” 14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” 17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile.18 Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19 Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. 20 And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, 21 but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning. Then I awoke. 22 I also saw in my dream seven ears growing on one stalk, full and good. 23 Seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them, 24 and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. And I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.” 25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the landof Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

“I’ve hit bottom.”

“I’m at the end of the rope.”

“The wheels have come off.”

Human beings have powerfully descriptive ways of communicating when life has not gone as they planned, when the worst thing that could happen has happened. There is in these statements an implicit protest and possibly even an indictment. It is not that we do not know these misfortunes happen, it is just that we somehow are shocked that they should happen to me!

And yet, they happen. We hit bottom. We find ourselves at the end of our ropes. The wheels come off.

Consider Joseph: the favored son of his father who was given dreams of exaltation above his family. Yet troubles come: he is sold off into slavery and then pronounced dead by his plotting brothers. After finding a position of authority he is then imprisoned on trumped-up charges after the scorned and rebuffed wife of Potiphar falsely accuses him. Then he is given a place of prominence in the prison and demonstrates the presence of God in his life by correctly interpreting the dreams of the baker and the cupbearer. However, just when things are looking hopeful, the cupbearer forgets poor Joseph so he languishes in prison.

Let us consider Joseph’s time in the pit. Let us watch closely what God does.

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Matthew 9:32-34

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Matthew 9

32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”

Pastor Mason Beecroft has described an interesting Sunday called “Oculi Sunday” and how it was observed in the earlier years of the church.

…[T]he third Sunday in Lent…is known as Oculi Sunday. Oculi, the Latin for “My eyes” comes from Psalm 25, the appointed Introit, the Entrance Psalm of the day: “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Yourself to me and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.

Approximately 1,500 years ago, on Oculi Sunday, if you found yourself in Rome, you would witness a large procession winding its way through the city. The procession would be led by catechumens, people who were preparing for Holy Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Before this day these candidates would have gone through instruction in the faith and been subject to a series of exorcisms. A late fifth-century letter from John the Deacon offers some insight into the faith of this community: “There is no doubt that, until born again in Christ, one is held bound by the power of the devil. Indeed, one thus bound should not approach the grace of the saving bath, unless, renouncing the devil as part of the early rudiments of faith, one is extricated from his snares.” So on Oculi Sunday, as they entered into the sanctuary after the procession, they would pray, “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Yourself to me and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.” The catechumens, along with all the faithful, were confessing that their hope and salvation was in Jesus Christ. They were turning their eyes to the Lord and seeking His mercy for they were desolate and afflicted by sin and death and the power of Satan. So they confessed the faith of the church and renounced Satan and all his works and all his ways. This then marked the beginning of a series of tests for the catechumens called scrutinies to determine their desire to remain faithful to Christ. John the Deacon continues, “For we thoroughly test their hearts concerning faith to determine whether, since the renunciation of the devil, the sacred words of the creed have become fixed in their minds.” The intensity of their preparation heightened in anticipation of entering the waters of Holy Baptism at the Easter Vigil, which was the transfer of their citizenship from the realm of Satan, with its sin and death, into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, where Christ rules with forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.[1]

What strikes me as interesting about this is the vivid understanding these earlier Christians had that entry into the Christian life meant rejecting the life of the devil in which they were previously mired. One still gets the feeling that many modern Christians are a bit squeamish about their belief in the devil…which is odd, given how much evidence we see daily for his existence. But these earlier Christians knew and saw that the devil exists, that he is powerful, and that he is seeking to hold us in his murderous clutches. Furthermore, they saw that coming to Christ meant making a definitive break with the devil’s kingdom of darkness.

I found myself twice in the last two days speaking to people who were seeking counsel. In both cases I found myself encouraging them to remember that the devil is real and is out to hurt and wound them but that Christ is greater, stronger, and has defeated the devil. I believe this. I believe it is a powerful truth we must hold to, for if we do not understand the power of the devil we will be stunted in our understanding of the victory of God in Christ.

Our text is a brief one that reveals much about the attacks of the devil and the power of Jesus Christ. The occasion is the healing of a mute possessed man.

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Genesis 40

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Genesis 40

1 Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody. And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” 12 Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 14 Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. 15 For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” 16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” 18 And Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. 19 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.” 20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. 22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them.23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

Last Tuesday night I had something unbelievably unpleasant happen. It happened around 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning. I had the most horrible and unbelievably realistic dream. I dreamed that Roni and Hannah and I were walking through this abandoned little town with the storefronts boarded up and trash strewn throughout the streets. We turned down a little alleyway and as we were walking through the alley I realized to my absolute horror that the alley was filled with rattlesnakes. We panicked and I said, “We’ve got to get out of here.”

When we emerged through the alley I realized with absolute dismay that Roni had been bitten. Her face was starting to swell up. I said, “You’ve been bitten!” She said, in her sweet voice, “No, I’m fine, I think.” I said, “You’re swelling up!” I picked her up and started running looking for help. We found a makeshift medical clinic in an abandoned Winn Dixie (!) and I ran into the building holding Roni in my arms. There was a long line and I started shouting, “Somebody help! Somebody help! She’s been bitten by a snake!” But nobody moved and nobody helped.

Then I woke up.

It was horrific.

I then did what any courageous man does in the middle of the night when he has had a bad dream: I woke Roni up! I wanted to make sure she was ok and tell her about my dream. She patted my shoulder then went back to sleep.

I lay there thinking about the dream. It was so real and so jarring. What on earth could it have meant? Why did I dream it?

Then it hit me: last Sunday I began my sermon by recounting Wendy Bagwell’s famous story about finding himself in a snake handling church and how he was determined to either find an exit or make one once the two ladies brought the rattlesnakes out. I had interpreted, at least somewhat, my dream.

Dreams can be tricky things to understand. Sometimes they are easy things to understand. Robert Alter writes that, “[i]n Egypt, the interpretation of dreams was regarded as a science, and formal instruction in techniques of dream interpretation was given in schools called ‘houses of life.’”[1] This was the context in which Joseph found himself when he was cast into prison after being wrongly accused by Potiphar’s wife. He found himself with an opportunity to interpret the dreams of his cellmates and, in so doing, promote a right understanding of God.

In this chapter we see the man of God refusing to waste his unique opportunity. We see him bearing witness and we see him pointing to a greater Savior to come.

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Matthew 9:27-31

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Matthew 9

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

The word “Evangelical” has come under fire a great deal recently and is the subject of a lot of misunderstanding. It was originally a word that described a type of Christian. Nowadays it seems to describe a type of voter. Some of us still want to hold to the old form of the word but suspect we may be losing it to politics. Who knows?

One of the better descriptions of an Evangelical is the 1989 thesis put forward by David Bebbington, a British historian, that has come to be known as “the Bebbington quadrilateral.” The quadrilateral refers to four distinguishing marks of Evangelicals. They are, according to Bebbington (as summarized here in the Wikipedia article about him):

  • Biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
  • Crucicentrism: a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
  • Conversionism: the belief that human beings need to be converted
  • Activism: the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort[1]

I oddly enough thought of the Bebbington quadrilateral when considering the two blind men Jesus healed in Matthew 9:31. Now, please do not misunderstand. I am truly not trying to force these brothers anachronistically into some sort of American Evangelical template. I mean the structuring of this message somewhat tongue-in-cheek (the structuring of the message, not the content). But only somewhat tongue-in-cheek. In fact, it is uncanny to me how this episode reveals the four points of the Bebbington quadrilateral. Let us see how.

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