Genesis 46

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Genesis 46

So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt. Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. 10 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. 11 The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 12 The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. 13 The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Yob, and Shimron. 14 The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. 15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah; altogether his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three. 16 The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. 17 The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, with Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. 18 These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons. 19 The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin. 20 And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera the priest of On, bore to him. 21 And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. 22 These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob—fourteen persons in all. 23 The son of Dan: Hushim. 24 The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. 25 These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob—seven persons in all. 26 All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. 27 And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy. 28 He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. 29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”

Does this matter? By “this” I mean what we are doing this morning. We have come to church. We are here together. We have sung. We have prayed. Now we have turned our attention to the Word. But does it matter?

In Charles Williams’ novel, War in Heaven, Prester John asks Barbara about going to church.

“Go to church? Yes, if you like. I’m afraid,” she added, blushing rather more deeply as she looked at the stranger again, “that we don’t go as regularly as we should.”

“It is a means,” he answered, “one of the means. But perhaps the best for most, and for some almost the only one. I do not say that it matters greatly, but the means cannot both be and not be. If you do not use it, it is a pity to bother about it; if you do, it is a pity not to use it.”[1]

I find this statement by the character Prester John interesting because it sums up, I think, the way many people view corporate worship as a gathered church: it matters (“It is a means, one of the means.”) but it does not really matter overly much (i.e., “I do not say it matters greatly…”). I suspect if you could get many folks who attend church frequently to be real honest, they might admit to something like this: an appreciation for corporate worship as a gathered church, but not a sense that it is overly important.

But let us note this: in Genesis 46, when Jacob discovers in Canaan that Joseph, his son, is alive in Egypt, he worships! He goes to Beersheba and offers sacrifice. And when He does so, God speaks to Him. And what God reveals to Him sheds light on why the elderly Jacob worships at all! And this light also illuminates our own paths, showing us why we should worship.

I want to argue, contra Prester John, that worship, in fact, does “matter greatly.” It matters because of what we discover when we worship…and what we discover when we worship is also the reason why we worship at all!

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Genesis 45:4-28

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Genesis 45:4-28

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him. 16 When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” it pleased Pharaoh and his servants. 17 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, 18 and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ 19 And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. 20 Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’” 21 The sons of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey. 22 To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes. 23 To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.” 25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. 26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

“It is hard to be a Christian when your head is in the toilet.”

These words were spoken by a lady to the late theologian R.C. Sproul. He writes about this in his wonderful book, The Holiness of God.

            I once talked to an elderly woman who was battling cancer with chemotherapy.  She suffered the side effects of nausea from the treatments.  I asked her how her spirits were holding up, and she offered a most candid reply: “It is hard to be a Christian when your head is in the toilet.”[1]

That is true. It is. And yet, we must be so—we must be Christians even when our heads are in the toilet. Even in times of suffering and misfortune we must be Christians, we must be followers of Jesus. In his film script for the movie “The Counselor,” Cormac McCarthy has the character Jefe say:

…[T]o prepare a place in our lives for the tragedies to come is an economy few wish to practice.[2]

This is also true. And, once again, it is also true that we must do so. We must prepare a place in our lives for the tragedies to come. And I would like to argue this morning that that place we must prepare in our lives for the tragedies and suffering to come must be a place of deep trust in which God is still with us, still sovereign in the midst of the suffering, and, in fact, working things to the good for His people in the midst of it.

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Genesis 44-45:3

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Genesis 44

1 Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him. As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’” When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” 10 He said, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” 11 Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city. 14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” 16 And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” 17 But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.” 18 Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ’Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’ 24 “When we went back to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ 26 we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down. For we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One left me, and I said, “Surely he has been torn to pieces,” and I have never seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.’ 30 “Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, 31 as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. 32 For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”

Genesis 45

1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

In Harold Bender’s important little book, The Anabaptist Vision, he says of the early Anabaptist Christians that he “found them men who had surrendered themselves to the doctrine of Christ by ‘Bussfertigkeit.’” What in the world isBussfertigkeit? It is a German word that Fender defines like this: “repentance evidenced by fruit.”[1]

What a beautiful idea! Bussfertigkeit. Repentance evidenced by fruit. That is, lives so radically changed that repentance of all that we used to be is authenticated thereby. Bussfertigkeit.

This is the biblical ideal. Jesus said, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

We should be a Bussfertigkeit people, a people of changed lives, a repentant people, a people bearing fruit. Our sins may always call out to us, but we must not return to them. They must remain in the past: repented of and covered by the blood of Jesus.

We can go one step further. We can say that we know we have truly repented when we use the occasion of our temptations to move closer to Jesus and to model His life more fully in and through our own lives. This is the fruit that repentance should bring. Our lives need not be one begrudging slog toward obedience after another. We can magnify Christ in our lives even and especially when we are tempted to turn from Him and return to our sin.

I would like, in fact, to offer this as my thesis this morning: We are truly freed from the tyranny of our sins when we not only resist but also use the occasion of temptation to magnify Jesus.

I would like to argue that we see this evidenced in the lives of Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 44-45. It is not just that they turn away from their sin. It is also that they show an awareness of the heart of the God in whom they professed to believe. Though these brothers did not know the name of Jesus yet, they will demonstrate the heart of Christ in this amazing chapter in how they respond to their brother Benjamin’s predicament.

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Matthew 10:16-25

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Matthew 10

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

In James J. O’Donnell’s fascinating book Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity (in which O’Donnell talks about the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire and how the new movement eclipsed the traditional Roman religions), he talks about one of the most notorious critics of Christianity, the 2nd century Greek philosopher, Celsus. The only way we know about Celsus’ thoughts is through the writings of the church father Origen who passed on numerous of his statements and sentiments. O’Donnell has offered a fascinating summary of Celsus’ hatred of Jesus and Christianity.

Jesus is a second-rater for Celsus, a colleague of riffraff, a perpetrator of truly second-rate miracles, skulking about in shadows to avoid punishment, unable to inspire in his followers even the loyalty of a robber band, wallowing in pain and self-pity in Gethsemane, and surely never behaving like a god (1.62, 1.68, 2.9, 2.12, 2.24). “What fine action did Jesus do like a god? Did he despise men’s opposition and laugh and mock at the disaster that befell him?” (2.33). “Why, if not before, does he not at any rate now show forth something divine, and deliver himself from this shame, and take his revenge on those who insult both him and his Father?” (2.35). The crucifixion was just the moment when you would expect some glorious manifestation of divine power, but there was none. Real gods are not to be messed with: “You pour abuse on the images of these gods and ridicule them, although if you did that to Dionysus himself or to Heracles in person, perhaps you would not escape lightly. The men who tortured and punished your God in person suffered nothing for doing it, not even afterwards as long as they lived” (8.41). Resurrection? There have been plenty of people rising from the dead, like Zalmoxis, the slave of Pythagoras among the Scythians. What about Rhampsinitus in Egypt, who went down to Hades and played dice with the queen of the underworld, returning with the gift of a golden napkin from her? Orpheus and Protesilaus and Hercules and Theseus: Why should anyone take Jesus and his pallid story seriously?[1]

It is fascinating to read these words today. Celsus positively rages against Jesus and the early church. And, while some of the arguments may have changed (or may not have!), his spirit lives on today.

Jesus and His church have always had critics, have always had detractors. Sometimes the church is guilty of that which her critics allege against her, to her shame. Jesus, of course, never is! Even so, one of the great constants for the last two thousand years has been opposition to Christianity.

This should not surprise us. Jesus promised as much, as we will see in our text.

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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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