Matthew 10:40-42

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Matthew 10

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

The Roman historian Suetonius once mocked the Emperor Claudius as one who “showed such heedlessness in word and act that one would suppose that he did not know or care to whom, with whom, when, or where he was speaking.” Among the list of examples of Augustus’ “heedlessness” provided by Suetonius are the following:

He gave us one of his reasons for supporting a candidate for the quaestorship, that the man’s father had once given him cold water when he was ill and needed it.[1]

For Suetonius the historian, this was absurd and worthy of mockery. Why on earth would a man of power even remember that a person gave him a cup of cold water, much less bless the person who gave the water? The implication is clear enough: a cup of water is an irrelevant gift to Suetonius, a worthless offering, and no truly great man would acknowledge such a paltry thing.

This makes the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:40-42 all the more amazing, for in this text Jesus exalts the giving of a cup of water to an amazing extent. In the Kingdom of God a “small” gift is truly big, for it reveals great faith if faithfully and joyfully given. What is more, Jesus is going to show that giving a cup of water to one of His children is the same as giving it to Him! The context of these comments is Jesus encouraging his disciples to support one another in our mission to advance the gospel in the world. Let us consider Jesus’ amazing words.

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Genesis 49

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Genesis 49

1 Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. “Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father. “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch! “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. 11 Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk. 13 “Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon. 14 “Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds. 15 He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant, so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant at forced labor. 16 “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward. 18 I wait for your salvation, O Lord. 19 “Raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels.20 “Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies. 21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns.22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. 23 The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, 24 yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), 25 by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents, up to the bounties of the everlasting hills. May they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers. 27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.” 28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. 29 Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Philip Roth has written an interesting story in which the family of the character Dr. Victor Zuckerman gathers around his deathbed to tell him goodbye. While other family members reminisce about good memories and joyful times together, his son Nathan, for some reason, decides to summarize the scientific theory of the “Big Bang” because he was reading about it on the plane to see his father. As he waxes eloquent on the age and expansion of the universe it occurs to him that what he has chosen to say to his father on his deathbed is inappropriate and does not fit well the scene. Dr. Zuckerman’s response, his last word, is utterly devastating.

            Though Dr. Zuckerman didn’t officially expire until the next morning, it was here that he uttered his last words. Word. Barely audible, but painstakingly pronounced. “B—-rd,” he said.

He curses his son. Later, in the airport, after Nathan tried to convince himself that his father had not said the word he knew deep down he had said, Nathan is scolded by his brother, Henry.

“He did say ‘B—-rd,’ Nathan. He called you a b—-rd…You are a b—-rd. A heartless conscienceless b—-rd. What does loyalty mean to you? What does responsibility mean to you? What does self-denial mean, restraint—anything at all?…The origin of the universe! When all he was waiting to hear was ‘I love you!’ ‘Dad, I love you’—that was all that was required!”[1]

It is a poignant and devastating scene. It asks of the reader a difficult question: what would it feel like to hear your own father use his last word to curse you? What a chilling and painful thing to contemplate!

Jacob, while not swearing, similarly pronounces hard words upon some of his boys from his deathbed. Some of them feel the sting of regret at what he has to say to them. And, insofar as our own behavior matches theirs, we too feel the regret of our own shameful actions. But that is, thank the Lord, not all! As hard as what some of what Jacob says is, there is a word of life and of hope spoken from his deathbed as well.

Let us join these twelve sons by the deathbed of their father, the great patriarch Jacob, and listen to what he has to say. We will consider his words to four of his sons in particular. In doing so, we will consider how some of these names bring a word of condemnation to us while one of these names brings a word of hope and life to us.

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Matthew 10:26-33

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Matthew 10

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch says that courage is “when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” Samuel D. James, after commenting on a number of modern examples of Christian ministries that have paid a public price for standing on biblical truth, appealed to Finch’s definition of courage and said:

The days of polite silence and pragmatism are gone beyond recall…The illusion that Christian institutions can survive based on unspoken assumptions of shared beliefs has been shattered by cultural revolution and legal transformation. Believers who want to introduce their generation to the risen Christ must announce Him explicitly and await the consequences. We may be “licked” before we begin, but the gates of hell will not endure.[1]

This is true today. It was also true two-thousand years ago. In so many ways, from an earthly perspective, the disciples knew they were “licked before they began.” That is, they were, from a human perspective, no match for the earthly power structures that would oppose them. Even so, Jesus called upon them in Matthew 10 to accept this and be bold and courageous in their witness regardless. In Matthew 10:17 He had warned them that they would have to deal with “men…[who] will deliver you over to courts and flog you…governors and kings…” In Matthew 10:26, he gives them a solid basis for the courage He was asking them to demonstrate.

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Genesis 48

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Genesis 48

1 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).” 8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). 15 And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” 17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”

It is not uncommon in religious art to see depictions of the great saints of yesteryear holding, looking upon, and contemplating human skulls. This will sound macabre to us, but, to them, it was simply a way of remembering their own mortality and of ordering their lives in such a way so that they could die without regret when that time came. Such practices as contemplating skulls constitute in Christian history what is known as “memento mori, a Latin phrase that means ‘remembrance of death’ or ‘remembrance of mortality.’”[1] Timothy George has written of this earlier contemplation of death.

A Franciscan friar, Richard of Paris, once preached for ten consecutive days, seven hours a day, on the topic of the Last Four Things: death, judgment, heaven, hell.  He delivered his sermons, appropriately enough, in the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents, the most popular burial ground in Paris. Hardly less dramatic was his contemporary, John of Capistrano, who carried a skull into the pulpit and warned his congregations: “Look, and see what remains of all that once pleased you, or that which once led you to sin. The worms have eaten it all.”[2]

That is dramatic, to be sure, and I am certainly not calling us to any sort of morbid preoccupation with death. On the other hand, one wonders if modern people, even modern believers, have perhaps not neglected such memento mori to our own peril. It is interesting that Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has argued that the last few chapters of Genesis have the virtue of providing modern believers with a model of how to die well.

            These materials may be useful to the listening community of our own time in facing the problem of death. Modernity would rob us of the capacity to face death faithfully. The collapse of tradition and memory, of community and hope, has made death an acutely private crisis for which individual persons lack resources…The power-laden words of religious tradition have been flattened or replaced by one-dimensional profane language. As a result, we have no symbols with which to speak about transcendent meaning related to the reality of death. These materials in 48:1–50:14 indicate how death is faced in this sojourning family which trusts the promise.[3]

In other words, we might say that our chapter, Genesis 48, is a biblical memento mori, a reminder that we will die and a reminder that we should be aware of and shape our lives in light of this fact. Our chapter places us beside Jacob’s deathbed. It is fascinating to see what Jacob does and says here as we approach the end of his life. In fact, I want to argue that Jacob’s behavior reveals two great questions that will be presented to all of us on our deathbeds. These are the only questions that really matter.

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Genesis 47

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Genesis 47

So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan. They are now in the land of Goshen.” And from among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” 10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. 11 Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. 13 Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. 14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. 15 And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” 16 And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. 18 And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” 20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land. 23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” 25 And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.”2 6 So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s. 27 Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. 28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years. 29 And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” 31 And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed.

“If life is a race (and it is), then it is run across wet concrete.”[1]

N.D. Wilson wrote that. I think that is one of the most powerful little statements I have ever heard. What an image! Life is a race run across wet concrete. That is, it is has a purpose and a destination, but it leaves its evidences and impacts, for good or ill, behind, long after we are gone.

Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, the late Baptist minister, former President of Morehouse College, and famed civil rights leader, wrote of life:

Life is just a minute—only sixty seconds in it.

Forced upon you—can’t refuse it.

Didn’t seek it—didn’t choose it.

But it’s up to you to use it.

You must suffer if you lose it.

Give an account if you abuse it.

Just a tiny, little minute,

But eternity is in it![2]

How, then, do we live this thing called life and live it well? How do we make sure that the prints we leave in the wet concrete of time solidify into something God-honoring, something good? In Genesis 46 Jacob reflects on his life and begins to look toward his death. His family is safe now in the land of Goshen under the protective umbrella of Egypt. And what we see in both Jacob and his sons helps us see and understand how life is to be lived by the people of God.

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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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