Effective Ministry – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-20

I read of a young pastor who drove into the church parking lot one day in a borrowed pickup truck. He backed the truck across the lawn to his study door. Refusing assistance and without making a comment he began to empty his office onto the truck, first the desk drawers, then the files and last his library of books which he tossed carelessly into a heap. Once he was finished, he got into the truck and drove to the city garbage disposal where he dumped it all. It was his way of putting behind him the overwhelming sense of failure he had experienced in ministry. This young, gifted pastor was determined never to return to full-time ministry, and he never did.[1]

You don’t have to have served as a pastor to have feelings of failure in Christian service. You can serve in a Sunday School, a youth group, a home group, a support area of the church, give money, and wonder whether your ministry has been a failure. Do you ever wonder whether your ministry or service is actually achieving anything, do you ever wonder whether it’s a waste of time?

As Paul writes to this young Thessalonian church, some may have considered his visit there to be a failure. He was only there for a short time, the young church that was started while he was there suffered some strong persecution from both the Jews, and the Gentiles in the region, Paul and his companions had to leave and many times since Paul had wanted to come back, but so far he’d been unable to. Was his time there a failure, was it in vain?

In v1 Paul says – you know brothers and sisters that our visit to you was not without results (Not in vain (ESV), not a failure (NIV, 1984). Definitely there were hardships, many of them ongoing, but by God’s grace his visit was not in vain, it was effective.

It’s not easy to measure success or effectiveness in Christian ministry is it? Something can look outwardly successful but in spiritual terms be dead, or something can look to be struggling yet in the long term produce great spiritual fruit, how can you tell if something’s being effective? As we look at this passage, where Paul tells us his ministry was not a failure, let’s notice three things about Effective Christian Ministry. 1. Motive for effective ministry, 2. Character of effective ministry, 3. Basis for effective ministry

1. Motive: desire to please God

This is one of the most personal chapters in Paul’s writings as he shares his heart with the Thessalonians. As he makes his appeal, he calls on two witnesses – the first witness is the Thessalonians themselves. He keeps using the phrase ‘you know’ v1. You know our visit was not without results, v2, we’d previously suffered as you know, v5 you know we never used flattery, v11 you know we dealt with each of you, then in v10 he says – you are witnesses. As he talks about his life and actions, he calls on the Thessalonians as witnesses to what he’s saying, they saw how he lived there, they know. He also calls on a second witness – look at the second half of v10 You are witnesses, and so is God. He says the same thing at the end of v5 God is our witness.

As Paul speaks here, he shares not just what he did what they saw, but also his motives, he’s sharing his heart. What is his motive? It’s very clear what it’s not, v3 not impure motives, v5 not greed, it’s not money, v6 they weren’t looking for praise from people. So what was his motive? Look at v4 On the contrary we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people, but God who tests our heart.

Paul’s motive above all else, was to please God. He can say that with a clear conscience, with God as his witness. He recognised that he’d been entrusted with God’s gospel, and his goal was to give that message in a way that honoured God. His goal was to please God.

I don’t know about you, but I need to hear this message today. I know how easy it is, even when you’re giving God’s message, to start to be more concerned about what people think about you, than about pleasing God, so it’s challenging to see Paul showing that his goal, his focus was to please God.

Notice that what Paul does here, he does not in his own strength, but with God’s v2 in the face of hardship, or strong opposition he has boldness to share the gospel. How can he do it? V2 says, with the help of our God. God gives him the boldness, God enables him to endure hardship, God enables him to live a with a motive of pleasing God.

Marlene Dietrich was a famous actress from last century. She was one of the highest paid actresses of her time, she went on to be a singer and performer.  She’d play to audiences, get a big ovation at the end, and she loved the applause. So much so that she even issued recordings of her audience’s ovations. Two sides of an album that had nothing but applause. Her biographer says she often gathered friends to listen to these recordings of her applauses. She insisted on playing both sides to actress Judy Garland, and would say after each one “That was Rio”, and “That was Cologne” and “That was Chicago”.[2] She loved the applause so much she wanted to hear it again and share it with others.

You probably don’t keep recordings of applauses, but it’s so easy to live with a concern for what other people think of us, pleasing people, rather than with a focus on pleasing God. John describes some of the Jewish leaders this way: for they loved human praise more than praise from God. (John 12:43)

In contrast: I live before the Audience of One. Before others I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose (Os Guinness). You could play for other audiences, live to please other people, but in the end, only one audience really counts. The audience of our Heavenly Father.

Mike Raiter is a former overseas missionary. I remember him sharing once how easy it would have been in his missionary situation to take it easy. In his position he didn’t really have anyone monitoring his day-to-day activities, he could have spent his time playing on the computer instead of working. Yet he wanted to please God. He wrote these words above the door in his office – judgement day integrity. He wanted to keep reminding himself that he was accountable to God. A day was coming when he would have to account to God who sees and knows everything.

There’s an old joke you might have heard about an older gentleman, let’s call him George, walking down the road one day with his wife when he ran into an old friend. The friend says, how are you George? George says not bad for an old bloke, the doctors given me some pills, and trying to make me eat better, and exercise, so I’m doing all right. One good thing is my wife and I just recently did a memory course, it’s one of those courses where you match a word or a name with a picture, I’ve found it really helpful. His friend said, wow that sounds great I’d like to do something like that, what’s the name of the course? George said…oh…then he said, I know, what do you call that flower, it smells nice but it has thorns? and his friend said a rose. That’s right, George said, and turning to his wife said – hey Rose, what’s the name of that memory course we just did?!

It’s easy to forget even what is most important to us, unless we are intentional about it. What is most important to you? What’s your goal in life, what drives you, what motivates you? The motivation for effective ministry is an intentional focus, a desire to please God. If our desire is to please God most of all, we can put up with all sorts of bad circumstances and opinions, because only one opinion really matters to us.

2. Character: sacrificial love

The affection Paul has for the Thessalonians is obvious here. Four times in chapter 2 he refers to them as brothers and sisters, an affectionate family term. He uses other family terms too:

In v7-8 he describes how he cared for them like a nursing mother. We’ve had at least 10 babies born here in the last year, so we have a few nursing mothers, we know how hard nursing mothers work, how much they sacrifice in caring for their children, it’s tiring, it’s draining, you’d love to be able to get more sleep but you just keep giving yourself in caring for your baby, Paul says just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you, then in v11-12 he says he dealt with them as a father deals with his own children. In v17-18 he says being separated from them was like being orphaned, that’s how strongly he felt it, then in v19-20 he describes them as his hope and glory and joy.

It’s obvious Paul loves these Thessalonians, he has a strong affection for them, but what does it actually mean to love them.?

Look at his nursing mother illustration. He says v8, because we loved you so much we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well. You see two things there about Christian love: Love is sharing the gospel of God – sharing God’s word, and sacrificing your life to share it with others. You see the same thing in v9, they worked hard, night and day, not to be a burden, they sacrificed themselves while they preached the gospel. In both of those verses we see Christian love involves both sharing the gospel in word, and sacrificing your life for the good of others.

Look at v12 to see how a father should deal with his children: – a father encourages, a father comforts, a father urges you to live lives worthy of God. To love others, is to want what is best for them, to want them to live a life worthy of God.

If we’re Christian parents, there’s some great things to think about here in our dealings with our children, do we share with them the gospel with them in words as well as sacrificing our lives to care for them? Do we encourage, comfort and urge them to live a life worthy of God?

Love is sacrificing yourself for others, so they can grow more like Jesus, sharing the gospel, encouraging, urging people to grow in godliness.

In chapter 3:12 which we’ll look at next week, Paul says: May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. In other words, we can’t look at this chapter and think all this affection that Paul has for this church, his sacrificial loving, that’s just him he’s an apostle, it’s not what God expects of me. Actually it is what he wants and God wants of all of us.

God wants all of us to love others, starting with the people at MEC the church he has placed us in. Is there a growing love in you for the people of our church? I’m not talking about just the people you like and get on with easily. Jesus says: If you love those who love you…. And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:46-47). Is there a growing love in you even for those at MEC that are different to you? Can you see a growing willingness to sacrifice yourself in serving others for their good?

God wants all his people to love, because God himself is love: God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). Father, Son, and Spirit live in perfect unity as one God. Love is intrinsic to Gods nature … each person of the Godhead lovingly empties himself so that he might fill the others in the Godhead and, in turn, be filled by them. There is complete and perfect mutual love. (George Athas) 

God is love, and humans are made in God’s image, made to reflect his character in some way.  God has not created us as generic individuals designed to live in selfish autonomy from each other, but as persons made for relationship with each other.[3] God’s made us to love each other.

Ian and Larissa Murphy have a wedding video that has gone viral in the last couple of years. They are a Christian couple who go to a church in Pennsylvania. They had planned to get married at the end of college, but just under three months before they graduated, Ian was in a car accident that left him with a brain injury. Larissa helped Ian’s family to care for him over the next four years. She said “I still don’t think Ian would have ever left me if the role had been reversed. And walking away from my best friend was never truly an option.”

As Ian’s condition slowly improved, and he regained some speech, the wedding plans that had been put aside became a possibility again. Yet there were still many difficulties, Ian wasn’t fully recovered and may never fully recover though he has recently begun walking. Larissa said. “Marrying Ian meant that I was signing on to things that I don’t think I ever would’ve chosen for myself … But in the light of all the practicals, and emotionals, it was so very simple: We love each other. And we love God. And we believe He is a sovereign and loving God who rules all things.”

Because of Ian’s condition, the courts had to decide that it was in his best interest to be married. The judge who approved their marriage license said: “You two exemplify what love is all about.”[4] This couple’s story has been told in both Christian and non-Christian publications[5], and it’s interesting to see even non-Christians saying what the judge said – you two exemplify what love is all about. Even many non-Christians long for this sort of love. Love that is sacrificial, committed, wanting the best for the other person. Ian and Larissa say, it’s Jesus that enables them to show such love.

We look at Paul’s love in this chapter, and think, is it even possible for us to grow in this sort of love? Paul’s own life shows us what great change is possible by God’s grace. This man who used to hate Jesus’ church and persecute it, came to love Jesus’ church, and serve it sacrificially. We’re not apostles like Paul was, but he writes this letter chapter 1v1 says: to those who are in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. If we’re Christians we’ve been united with Jesus, in him we find the power to love in the same way Jesus loved us, by sacrificing himself for us.

3. Basis: confident hope

Notice two things that bring Paul hope here:

a) Gods word

v13 is a rich verse, we could preach a whole sermon from there. Notice three things it tells us about God’s word:

i) Accessible – word of God…which you heard from us. God’s word can be heard, he has spoken in Jesus and his apostles, we can know God even today we can hear God as he speaks through his word.

ii) Powerful – accepted it, not as a human word, but as it actually is the word of God. God’s word came through humans, through apostles like Paul, but God is powerful enough that he can even imperfect humans to communicate his perfect and powerful word.

iii) Active – which is indeed at work in you who believe. God’s word by his Spirit produces change, and helps us grow more like Jesus.

Despite the very real difficulties the Thessalonian church is facing, Paul writes with great hope, because they’ve accepted God’s word as it really is. That word is at work in them.

b) Jesus return

When you first read v19-20 you wonder, is Paul going too far, when he says the Thessalonians  are his hope, and joy, and the crown in which he will glory? We think, hang on, isn’t Jesus our hope and joy, haven’t you taken this a bit too far? But notice the basis of this hope, they will glory in the Thessalonians v19 says in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes. Paul has hope about the Thessalonians, because he knows with certainty, Jesus is coming again.

I saw a story recently of a bowl that someone had bought at a garage sale for $2 or $3. They put it in their lounge room, then one day they decided to get it valued. It turned to be a rare Chinese bowl, one of only two in the world, it went for over $2 million dollars at an auction.

Another person bought a chest for $165. They used it in their lounge room as a TV stand and drinks cabinet, then they got it valued and it turned out to be a 1640 Japanese chest which sold for $10.4 million.[6]

These owners didn’t realise the value of their items until someone else helped him to see their value. Paul loves the Thessalonians, he seems them as valuable, but only because Jesus has helped him to see their value. Paul sees them as valuable because they are God’s church, that Jesus gave his blood for. They are in Jesus he sees them in light of what Jesus has done for them, and what they will be when Jesus returns.

The word Paul uses at the start of this chapter when he says our visit to you was not a failure, or not in vain, (κενὴ) he uses again in 1 Corinthians 15, where he talks about the certainty of Jesus resurrection, and his return, he finishes the chapter with these words:  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).

Serving Jesus, living for Jesus will never be in vain, it will never be a waste of time, it will never be without results. It will be difficult, there will be opposition, but by God’s grace, in the long-term it will be effective.

Let’s give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because like Paul we know that our labour in the Lord, is not in vain.

Transcript of Sermon preached at MEC on 3 November 2013. Audio here

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Authentic Christianity – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

When I was first considering coming to serve at MEC, I sent Rog a facebook invitation, so I could look at his page and find out a little more about him. But he didn’t accept it, and it wasn’t till 6 months later when I started here, that he told me he wasn’t sure how to get back into his account. So I actually had to go into his account, and from there, I accepted my own friend request. That’s always left me feeling a little unsure about my relationships with Rog, would he have accepted my friend request if he knew how, I’ll never know, I’ll always feel a little insecure about that!

Obviously I’m just kidding, but to be honest, I have sometimes felt uncertain about my relationship with God. Have you? Have you ever wondered, does God really love me? Or you read a passage like this where it mentions God choosing people and you wonder, has God chosen me? Am I really a Christian? How do I know whether I am really a Christian or not?

There are often two extreme in the way people approach this question. In their lives. One extreme is demonstrated by JD Greear, in his helpful book about assurance, called Stop asking Jesus into your heart, He says he was very young, about 4 when he first understood about Jesus death on the cross, and prayed asking Jesus to forgive him. He considered himself to be a Christian for about 10 years, until as a teenager, his Sunday school teacher was speaking one day from Matthew 7 where Jesus talks about how many people might call him Lord, but they aren’t really his followers. JD Greear started to got worried about whether he really was a Christian, maybe he hadn’t properly repented at 4,  maybe he needed to pray again and ask God to forgive him. So he did. This time he thought he really must be a Christian, until a little later when he again began to have doubts. He said he prayed lots of times to become a Christian he travelled to various churches he felt like he became a Christian in every denomination he visited. He seemed to be living like a Christian, but never felt quite sure.

At the other extreme, I met a man who prayed a prayer once, and been told that makes him a Christian, but in the years since then, it seemed he’d never shown any obvious evidence of loving Jesus, or obeying his word, or loving his people, yet he said he was sure he was a Christian because someone told him because you prayed this prayer you are a Christian, as though becoming a Christian is happens by just saying a magic formula!

So those are two extremes – you act like a Christian, but you sometimes doubt whether you are one, or you don’t act anything like a Christian but you feel sure you are one, and there’s obviously a range in between.  How can we know if we are Christians? Paul speaks so confidently about this church, he spends most of this chapter plus the next two thanking God for them. Look what he says in v4: We know brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you. He speaks so confidently, how does he know?  As we look at Thessalonians 1, let’s notice five marks of a genuine Christian.

1. Active Faith, love and hope in Jesus (v2-3)

v1 tells us Paul, Silas and Timothy wrote this letter. They first came to Thessalonica around AD 50. (see map). Today in that place is Greece’s second largest city.  But in AD50, it was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia, with a population of around 100,000. We can trace the journey of this group up to this point on this map:12-19

a) Paul and Silas leave Antioch (Acts 15:40)
b) Paul and Silas travel to Lystra where Timothy joins them (Acts 16:1-3)
c) In Troas Paul has a vision of a man begging him ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’ (Acts 16:9-10)
d) Paul and his companions go to Philippi in Macedonia (Acts 16:11-12)
e) Paul, Silas and Timothy arrive in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1)

In Thessalonica they share the gospel of Jesus, going first to the Jews: he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah, he said. (Acts 17:2-3). Many Jews had a problem with the idea of a Messiah who had to die, but Paul showed them Jesus had to die to bring forgiveness, and his resurrection proved who he was. The gospel had a significant impact there, a number of people became Christians, a new church is formed by the gospel where there had never been a church previously. The church faced opposition right from the beginning, and Paul and his companions were asked to leave. Now a year or more later they write to that young church, and speak both of what they saw at the time and what they have heard from others since. The first thing they thank God for in v3 is the Thessalonians, faith, love and hope.

Paul refers to these three elsewhere: now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13). In that passage, he mentions love last, he’s emphasising that as important as it is to have faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection and a certain hope in his return, whether we really have them will show in our love for God and others. In Colossians 1, it’s hope that appears last: the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel (Colossians 1:5).  Here in 1 Thessalonians, which is last?  Look at v3 It’s hope again isn’t it? We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Hope is a key theme in this letter. At the end of every chapter in this letter, there is reference to the return of Jesus. I don’t know how often you think about the return of Jesus, but in the coming weeks we’ll see Paul challenging us to be thinking more about it, he sees hope as very practical.

As he mentions these three: faith, love and hope he emphasises that they are all, active. A genuine Christian will be showing these characteristics in their actions, in their work, labour and endurance.

I had a look at the church rosters on the members section of our website, and I saw that this morning there are almost 40 different roles that people are rostered on to serve in, and at night there are another 20. On top of that there are rosters for things during the week like home groups and youth programs, not to mention the many things people do that aren’t rostered. What would keep you going serving regularly on a role, like Sunday school or packup or set up that might not often be noticed? It could be guilt, or obligation, you do it because you have to do it. But usually if that’s your motivation it doesn’t last long. Often the motivation is faith or love. It’s your faith in Jesus that motivates you to want to teach children about Jesus, or motivates you to get here early to set up chairs to help God’s people gather to sing and pray and hear his word. It’s your love for God and his people that motivates you to welcome people at the door, or help out with the morning tea/supper roster. Your faith produces work, your love prompts labour.  What keeps you serving for years in a ministry where you may not see much fruit. You teach Scripture or Sunday school year after year, but you never really know what eventually happens to the kids? It’s hope that can inspire endurance as you look forward to Jesus’ return and seeing what God has done in lives where you’ve sown the word.

2. Gospel and Spirit power at work (v4-6)

Look at v4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you. How does he know? v5 because our gospel came to you, Paul’s certainty is because of the gospel of Jesus. He knows the gospel is true – Jesus did die, he did rise again. This gospel of God is powerful, when we realise that we can never rescue ourselves, but that in Jesus God has done all that is needed for us to be rescued, it changes us.

The gospel came to the Thessalonians not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction. The gospel came with words, it can’t come without words, but it is God’s word, and it came with the power of His Spirit. We know Paul wasn’t an impressive looking person, and wasn’t necessarily an impressive speaker, he didn’t rely on some of the speaking methods popular in his day. But when he spoke God’s word, God spoke powerfully through him. He spoke with deep conviction, as God’s Spirit worked through him.

God’s Spirit worked powerfully in Paul, but also in his hearers, v6 says you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. The Thessalonians experienced opposition from the very beginning. It wasn’t easy to become a Christian in a setting where some actively opposed the gospel, yet they welcomed the message with joy, because God’s Spirit was powerfully working in them.

One Mark of a true Christian is that you’ll see God’s gospel and his Spirit working powerfully in you. It may not always seem spectacular, but it will be producing real change, like joy in the midst of suffering. That doesn’t mean you won’t grieve or feel pain, you’ll enjoy hardship, but even in the most difficult and painful times God’s gospel and Spirit provide you with deep resources that will help you endure with hope and even joy.

3. Impacting others with the gospel (v7-8)

You’ve probably heard the saying, that you’ll never find the perfect church, and if you do don’t join it, because you’ll spoil it. But apparently there is a place called the perfect church. Can you guess which country it’s in? It’s in America, in Atlanta Georgia:

theperfectchurch.org

It’s not a great name to give your church is it? because you’ll never live up to your name. Everyone’s going to eventually feel let down eventually. Even if they think it’s great at first they’re eventually going to realise – this church is far from perfect.

Paul doesn’t use the word-perfect to describe the Thessalonian church, but he does use the word model v7 You became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. V8 the Lords message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia your faith in God has become known everywhere. Do you see two ways this church is having an impact? One is through their actions, as they live for Jesus even through difficult suffering, they are becoming a model to others.  The second is through the words of the gospel, they spoke the Lord’s message in words, it rang out from them.

It wasn’t necessarily a huge church, but it was having a big impact through the lives and the words of  the believers. It makes us think about how much potential for impact there is in our church by God’s grace. You’ll know people who the person next to you doesn’t know, or that I don’t know, in your workplace or community groups or neighbourhood, you have opportunities to be a model, as you live for Jesus even in difficulties, and for the Lord’s message to ring out from you.

That doesn’t mean donging people on the head with the gospel, we aim to speak with gentleness and respect. We won’t all speak in the same way, but we can all seek to grow in how we share with others.

I’m not suggesting that if you’re not having a huge impact on others then you can’t be a real Christian, but are you having any impact? Do your friends or family at least know you are a Christian? If friends now other things that you love or are passionate about, but don’t know you love Jesus, then it could be worth asking whether you really love Jesus more than those other things.

4. Genuine turning and serving (v9)

Not long after Paul’s time in Thessalonica, he visited Athens, another Macedonian city. We read that: While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols (Acts 17:16). People in Athens and Thessalonica followed various idols, like the ancient Greek and Roman gods as well as a variety of others. Paul is distressed as he sees this because idols both dishonour the true God, and enslave people. It’s tragic to see people giving themselves to worship an object made of wood or stone or metal.

The Bible warns we can become enslaved to other types of idols. I heard of a Christian lady whose boss tried to seduce her at work. She said she was tempted, not because she found the boss attractive, but because her tendency was to please other people, to comply with those over her. Obviously what the boss was doing was wrong, he was abusing a position of power, perhaps his idol was power, or lust, but for the lady, the idol was pleasing others. It’s a very common idol. When we worship or love or trust or fear anything more than God, it becomes an idol. We show we’re enslaved to idolatry when we love some pleasure more than God, or trust money more than God, or fear people more than God.

The gospel can free us from our slavery to idolatry. Look what Paul says about the Thessalonians: V9 They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, The gospel gave power to turn from idols. The lady I mentioned earlier was saved from being seduced as she recognised her idol of pleasing people, and with God’s help turned from it.

I traded a starring role in the story of me for a tiny role in the story of Jesusits the best trade Ive ever made. – Sammy Adebiyi

One of the marks of a true Christian, will be this genuine turning from idols, to serve the true and living God.

5. Hope-filled waiting (v10)

I mentioned earlier that every chapter in Thessalonians has a reference to Jesus’ return at the end of it. We see that chapter 1, which finishes in v10 describing a Christian, as someone who is waiting for God’s Son from heaven. Not many of us enjoy waiting do we? If you’re at the supermarket and your trolley is full what do you do? You look along to see which queue is going to be the quickest checkout to get you out, you don’t want to wait around, yet much of the Christian life is spent waiting for Jesus to return, as we work, and labour and endure.

Recently Roger’s daughter told me something interesting about Rog. To understand it, you need to know if you’re newer to MEC that I try to have some fun teasing Rog about his age. Even though we were technically born in the same year, I point out that our births were separated by a generation marking event – the moon landing. Rog was born before that, he belongs to the pre moon landing generation, I belong to the younger generation born well after that.

Anyway, Roger’s daughter likes to watch Horrible Histories which is a fun history show for younger people, and Rog likes to watch it too, because he likes history as you know. In the latest series of Horrible Histories, they were doing some modern history, from the twentieth century, and in one episode they featured the moon landing. Do you see what that means? Rog is now old enough to be on Horrible Histories! You should get to know this man he doesn’t just love history, he is living history! Good things come to those who wait!

Of course Christians wait for something far more significant, v10 wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Over the last week, we’ve been very conscious of and praying for the fire fighters who do such an amazing job, often risking their own lives to save people and property. Jesus is a greater rescuer, who saves us from an even greater danger, at a much greater cost. He endured God’s wrath, so we can be rescued from it.

 Many modern people don’t like this idea of a God whose wrath is coming, yet we all long for ultimate justice. In a world where there is so much injustice this phrase ‘the coming wrath’ reminds us of God’s coming justice. Thankfully, it also reminds us of God’s grace, Jesus is able to rescue us from the coming wrath.

There’s a story you may have seen that often goes around the internet[1], that says after a great bushfire, a park ranger went in to see the devastation, and one of the things he saw was the charred remains of a bird that had been completely blackened by the fire. He moved the bird slightly with a stick and when he did, two little chicks ran out from underneath. The mother bird had saved these chicks who were unable to flee the fire by sacrificing herself, taking the scorch herself.

As far as I now, there’s no truth to that story, but the fake story of the bird illustrates the true story of the cross. Jesus saves his people, by taking on himself the wrath they deserve. He didn’t stay dead, he rose, proving his death was effective.

If you’re struggling with doubts about whether you are a Christian, the place where we can gain assurance is in the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you were at the Gospel Blues Sunday last weekend you might have noticed that Jim, the lead guitarist, had a Greek word written on his arm, τετέλεσται , it’s the word Jesus spoke on the cross before he died, it is finished, it is completed. In Jesus the work of salvation has been finished. You can’t add to what God has done for you in Jesus, he has done all that is necessary.

It’s good to sometimes look at your life, and ask: are there signs that I’m really trusting the gospel of Jesus? Can you see active, faith, love and hope? Can you see the power of the gospel and the Spirit changing you? Is your life impacting others for the gospel? Are you genuinely turning from idols and serving God? Can you see hope-filled waiting for Jesus return? If there’s no life change, you may not yet be trusting the gospel. Jesus invites you to turn to him now, to come to him. If there is change, then thank God, that’s what Paul’s doing here, he’s thanking God as he recognises God’s work. But while changes can be encouraging, ultimately our assurance is based not on what we are doing, but resting in what God has done in Jesus. We put our trust in God, and we wait for his Son, from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath. 

Transcript of Sermon preached at MEC on 27 October 2013. Audio here

Hope and the reality of death – Genesis 48-50

During the week I was walking past Rog’s office. He was talking with Steve, and I heard him say: Old age has its own vulnerabilities. Steve agreed, and it seemed to me that these two older gentlemen that I work with were both speaking from experience.

To his credit though, Rog has been trying to ward off some of the vulnerabilities of old age through attempts at exercise. Two weeks ago I mentioned his attempt at cycling, this week I mentioned to him some basic exercises I’d seen in a 7 minute workout, he said he’d give it a go with his kids. The next morning Carolyn sent me a text with a picture: You should hear the grunts and groans coming from this exercise routine. He was obviously putting in a lot of effort. Soon afterwards I got another picture with these words And a few minutes later, girls hard at it, Roger nowhere to be seen!

Explode of rainbow woldIt’s fun to tease Rog and Steve, but the reality is we’re all getting old at the same rate they are. No matter what age we are, or how much exercise we do, there is an inevitable destination we are all heading to. That destiny, seems to be a main focus of these last 3 chapters of Genesis. It finishes with two deathbed scenes – first Jacob, then Joseph. it’s as though in these chapters, God wants us to think about death. The Bible says it’s good for us to think about death:

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

It’s good for us consider the reality of death, to take it to heart, so let’s do that today as we consider  three points: 1. Painful reality of death 2. Certain Hope in death 3. Present Impact of hope in death

1. Painful reality of death

 Death is a theme in every section of these last 3 chapters. You can see that in this outline (below). Chapter 48 begins with Jacob ill, and we get these two deathbed blessing scenes:

Overview
1 Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh (48:1-22)
2 Jacob blesses his sons (49:1-28)
3 Jacob’s final instructions, death and burial (49:29-50:14)
4 Joseph reassures his brothers (50:15-21)
5 Joseph’s final words and death (50:22-26)

Death is a theme in every section. We don’t get many of the details of his last 17 years of Jacob’s life in Egypt, it’s as though it races through that, then right at the end of his life it slows down and gets us to take in his death over these three chapters. After he dies Joseph lives for another 50 years or so but we hear almost nothing of that time, it races through it until it slows down at the end to focus on Joseph’s final words and his death.

Death is in fact all through Genesis, from Genesis 3 where humans first to turn from God to Genesis 50,. the words, die, died, death or dead occur over 80 times.  Genesis 5, the earliest list of names we have in the Bible give us each person’s name, tells us how long he lived, that he had children, and ends with the phrase ‘and then he died’. That phrase ‘and then he died’ repeats again and again through the chapter reinforcing the reality that death is inescapable.  Ecclesiastes is right: death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Death is a painful reality. If you look at 50:1 you see Jacob breathes his last and Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. You see the affection Joseph had for his father, the grief he feels at being separated from the father who had loved him so much. He knew his father would die, yet it was still painful. Death is painful. That’s true in all cultures. We get a glimpse of ancient Egyptian culture here 50v3 says they mourned for him seventy days. Then after they travel up to Canaan for the burial, v10 says they lamented loudly and bitterly and there Joseph observed a (further) seven-day period of mourning for his father.

To us culturally that might seem like a lot of mourning, yet whether we mourn loudly and openly and officially, or grieve more quietly and privately grief can last much longer than the mourning period here. Not everyone grieves the same way, grief goes go through various stages, it can hit you more at sometimes than others, yet there is a sense in which the heart of grief never fully goes away, humans will always long to see our loved ones again.

Some try to say that death is natural. But if death is so natural, why is it so painful, the Bible says death is a curse, that has come into the world because we’ve turned our backs on God. It is a painful reality.

I’ve been reading some Famous Five books with one of my daughters. Sometimes we finish a chapter at night and leave it hanging with the bad guys closing in and the famous five in danger. When that happens my daughter says to me, don’t worry dad, they’re going to be alright  – there are lots more books in the famous five series, so it’s obvious they’ll survive. She’s only 6 but she knows that in a series like that the good guys never die.

A couple of years ago my wife gave me the Bourne movie trilogy, and we just recently got around to watching them. The Bourne movies are a little like famous five, for grown-ups. There’s a bit of a mystery, both series follow a bit of a formula. The Bourne movies are chase movies, in the first one he’s getting chased across Europe in the second he gets chased in India, then Russia, then in the final one he gets chased in North Africa then America. I don’t think I’m spoiling it for you if I say, that in a Bourne movie, like the famous five stories, the hero gets chased, but he never dies. It’s a movie franchise, you want to keep the main character alive in case you want to make another sequel.

The Bible is more realistic than a famous five book, or a Bourne movie. In the Bible, the main characters consistently die. Just as in life, you and all those you love will die. Death is a painful reality

2. Certain hope in death

When I was younger I was often afraid of dying. I’d sometimes get anxious at night and check my heart rate or my pulse, to make sure I was still alive. It’s very common for humans to feel anxious or fearful about death, there’s so much about death we don’t know and the fact we often don’t like to talk about it, can make that fear or anxiety worse. In these chapters we see Jacob then Joseph talking very openly about their deaths, they know it is coming, yet there is a confidence and hope as they approach death.

Look at the phrase Jacob uses to refer to his death in 49:29 he says I am about to be gathered to my people. That phrase is repeated again in v33 Jacob breathed his last and was gathered to his people. That phrase echoes God’s earlier promise to Jacob: You…will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age (Genesis 15:15). Jacob dies in peace, he’s gathered to his people, with a certainty and confidence in God and his promises.

If you were to choose an event from Jacob’s life that demonstrates his faith, what would you choose? His persevering despite his uncle’s deceptions? His wrestling with God as he prepared to meet Esau? The writer to the Hebrews picks Jacob’s deathbed blessings:  By faith Jacob when he was dying blessed each of Joseph’s sons (Hebrews 11:21)

Turn back to Genesis 48:15-16 and read Jacob’s words of blessing to Ephraim and Manasseh: May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm may he bless these boys. Jacob looking back on his hard and difficult life, knows that the God has been his shepherd, constantly caring for him, delivering him, will keep his covenant. He looks forward to the future, dying with a confident hope in God’s promises.

If you had to pick an event from Joseph’s life that showed his great faith, what would you chose? His resisting the temptation of Potiphar’s wife? His integrity as a slave then in gaol? His forgiving attitude to his brothers? The writer to the Hebrews picks Joseph’s deathbed instructions: By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones. (Hebrews 11:22).

Both Jacob and Joseph are very definite about being buried NOT in Egypt, but in the promised land. They both make their descendants swear to do it. They were both embalmed or mummified, so that they could be taken out of Egypt. They are saying, our future is not here, our future is with God and his promises. Look at the huge crowd that goes out for Jacob’s funeral. 50 v7 All Pharaoh’s  officials accompanied him. v8 all the members of Joseph’s household...all those belonging to his father’s household . This huge crowd going from Egypt to Canaan is a prelude or foretelling of the Exodus, when all the Israelites will leave Egypt to go to the promised land.[1]

Joseph speaks of that Exodus in his final words, look at 50v24 Joseph said to his brothers, I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place. Genesis begins with God creating a beautiful paradise, and ends with Joseph’s bones in a coffin. It sounds despairing, yet those bones are a sign of hope, a sign of faith in God’s promises. When the Israelites became enslaved as God said they would, for hundreds of years Joseph’s bones in a coffin remained with them, a physical reminder of God’s promises.

Joseph’s bones were carried out when God rescued his people, and they were buried in the promised land, but ultimately Jacob and Joseph, were looking beyond Canaan. In the words of Hebrews:  ‘they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one’ (Hebrews 11:16). They were looking forward not just to the Exodus, but to the resurrection.

Jesus says: But about the resurrection of the dead have you not read what God said to you, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living. (Matthew 20:32). Jacob who has been dead for centuries, is still living to God. God is still in a covenant relationship with Jacob. From God’s perspective, Jacob is living, and Jacob will one day be physically raised, because God will keep his promise to be his God.

Jesus not only spoke of the resurrection of the dead, he also made it possible: Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death that is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15).  Fear of death, can enslave us, but Jesus death can free us from that fear. Jesus death is the sacrifice that undoes the hold that sin had over us. His resurrection points the way to our resurrection. Through Jesus we can have confidence in the face of death.

David Powlison says a friend of his often asks people, Who are you looking forward to meeting when you get to heaven? People tell him about their loved ones, or interesting people from the Bible, but almost no one says, Jesus. Which is strange because it is only through Jesus that we can have confidence in the face of death, if we trust him, he should be the one we most want to see.

You cannot face death with true, honest courage unless you are looking forward to meeting Jesusthe One who faced death for you and who is now alive and with you. (David Powlison)[2]

We see this in Jesus followers. Stephen, as he was being stoned, died with confidence praying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (Acts 7:59). Paul speaks of death says: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:23). For a Christian, to die, is to be with Christ. Through Jesus we can face death with certain hope.

Henri Malan, wrote this hymn that was updated recently by Bob Kauflin:

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
 
Who
ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
 
Delivered from our fears
CHORUS
 
O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
 
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

3. Present impact of hope in death

Jacob and Joseph both had faith in God and his promises that gave them certain hope as they approached death. They were longing for the ultimate heavenly country, yet they weren’t so heavenly minded they were of no earthly good. Instead their faith and hope in what was to come, freed them up to do good in the present.

We’ve seen some of the good Joseph achieved in his life, God used him not just to save his own people, but also to help the Egyptians, and others from the nations around him. We’ve seen, his willingness to forgive his brothers, and we see it again in chapter 50. Joseph’s brother’s come to him with a story, which looks totally made up, about their father saying I ask you to forgive you brothers. Let’s read Joseph’s response 50v19 Dont be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, dont be afraid. I will provide for you and your children. And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Joseph knows he is not God. He’s not the ultimate judge. His faith is in God. He knows God is completely sovereign over everything. So sovereign that what his brothers intended for harm, God always intended for ultimate good. Joseph’s big view of God helps him not just as he faces death, but in his ordinary relationships. He’s able to forgive others in the present because of his confidence in God.

In the first three centuries the Christian church grew from a small group of frightened followers to a time when over half the Roman empire called themselves Christians. Historians have tried to work out why the church grew particularly in the face of so much persecution. During that time, the Roman empire went through two periods of plagues that last about fifteen years each. One began around 165AD  another around 251 and during their peak thousands of people were dying.[3] Many pagans of the day left Rome, to try and escape the plague. But the Christians mostly stayed. They weren’t worried if they caught the plague, or even died because they knew they had far better to come. When someone got sick among the pagans, their own family members abandoned them – they just left them to die. In contrast the Christians not only cared for their own family members who got the plague, they also went out and cared for many pagan people who had been abandoned by their families. Many of the people they cared for got better, and the number of Christians grew during the time of both of these plagues. The Christians were heavenly minded, and because of this, they were being of earthly good, caring for others. It was the pagans who didn’t believe in heaven, that were of no earthly good, they were just living for themselves, abandoning people and getting out of town. The Christians belief in God and in eternity made them willing to serve others in this life.

If you read history, you will find that Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman EmpireEnglish Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on the earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with HeavenAim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth, and you will get neither. (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, 118).

There’s a youtube clip, some of you may have seen with an illustration by Francis Chan where he gets a rope like this one and he says: Imagine this rope is much longer and goes around the world a few times. Now imagine that this rope is a timeline of your existence, it just goes on forever. This short part of it here, represents your time on earth. The Bible says our life is like a breath, we’re here for such a short time. Yet beyond that stretches an eternity. For Christians that involves the unimaginable glory of the new heavens and the new earth.

What’s amazing is that you can spend all of your time, all of your attention focusing on this part. You can be here near the beginning and think, I can’t wait till I’m here. Or you think, I’m going to work really hard here, so I can enjoy this little part at the end. That’s just crazy, because you’re not thinking about this, or this, or this (further along rope). There’s a close relationship between the two sections on the rope. What we believe about the section that represents eternity, will determine how we live in this section that represents our life, and what we believe and do in our life, will determine where we’ll spend all this section (eternity).

What’s something you don’t own, that you really like to own? If your trust is in God, you’ll think, I may never own that thing because I’m spending my money here to seek first God’s kingdom, to help others know about Jesus, and that’s OK, what does it matter if I never own that thing I really want in this section, I’ve got God, and he’s worth more to me than anything and I’ve got all that to enjoy him and his glory.

What’s something you’d really like to do? Something you’d put on your bucket list if you use that term. If your trust is in God, you’ll think, even if I don’t ever get to do that thing in this life, it doesn’t matter, because I’ve got all this to enjoy far more with God.

Paul says: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17). He’s saying that even the most painful things we have to go through in this life, like the real pain of death, is light and momentary compared to the eternal glory.

Hope in death, through Jesus, transforms how we live in the present.

While I draw this fleeting breath;
When my eyelids close in death;
When I soar through realms unknown,
bow before the judgement throne,
hide me then, my refuge be
Rock of ages, cleft for me.
(Ruth Buchanan / Augustus Toplady)

Transcript of Sermon preached at MEC on 1 September 2013. Audio here

photo credit: Matthew Fang via photopin cc


[1] Jacob’s burial procession from Egypt to Canaan is doubtless seen as a pledge or acted prophecy of the nation’s future move.’ (Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 488)

[3] Ronald Starks, The Rise of Christianity.

Convictions of a local church leader

What does it take to serve as a local church pastor or leader? In a word: conviction. The Christian leader is driven by the convictions that give all of life its meaning. (Al Mohler) [1]. Below are eight convictions of a Christian leader:

1. A conviction of God’s love for you in Jesus Christ. We see this conviction in Paul’s life: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) Paul experiened plenty of hardship.  He was shipwrecked, imprisoned, flogged, stoned, and left for dead, yet his conviction of Jesus love for him, kept him going, and made him willing to live and die for Christ.

It is heaven to serve Jesus….If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, even lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in Him. These forty years and more have I served Him, blessed be His name! And I have had nothing but love from Him. I would be glad to continue yet another forty years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased Him. (Charles Spurgeon)

2. A conviction of the authority and power of God’s word.  In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

In the face of immense pressure, Martin Luther was driven by his conviction in the authority of the word of God:  Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe: Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen. (Martin Luther) 

3. A conviction of the power of the gospel. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.(Romans 1:16)

I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes here to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel…we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church. (CH Spurgeon).

4. A conviction of God’s love for the local church. Paul shows his conviction of the significance of the local church, when he charges the Ephesian elders with these words: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20:28) He’s referring to an ordinary local church, the church at Ephesus, and he calls it, God’s church, Jesus church, the church he bought with his own blood.

Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect … Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us… the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, need all the help they can derive from … their fellow Believers. The Church is…the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family. (Charles Spurgeon)

5.  A conviction that God in his grace is growing you in the characteristics required for those who serve as church leaders. (1 Tim 3; Titus 1:5-9; Acts 6:1-6; 1 Pet 5:1-4). This conviction should be confirmed and attested to by godly leaders and those in your local church.

6. Strong conviction in God’s sovereignty – a belief that God can use the hardships of ministry (even when others intend evil against you) for your ultimate good (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:31-32). Most pastors will not regularly preach to thousands, let alone tens of thousands. They will not write influential books, they will not supervise large staffs, and they will never see more than modest growth. They will plug away at their care for the aged, at their visitation, at their counseling, at their Bible studies and preaching. Some will work with so little support that they will prepare their own bulletins. They cannot possibly discern whether the constraints of their own sphere of service owe more to the specific challenges of the local situation or to their own shortcomings. (Don Carson, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, 9)  Free pdf

7. A conviction that Christ alone is worth serving wholeheartedly. Whatever you call it, whatever the variations in human personality, there must be a servant heart, a single-eyed devotion to Christ that wholeheartedly desires to serve  Jesus the Lord and His church in this way…Very few ministers serve large, thriving churches. If that is your vision of what is ahead, discount it. God may open up such formidable doors of opportunity; but you cannot count on it, and it must form no part of your decision. The overwhelming majority of pastors serve relatively small and unprepossessing churches. Many of them are called on to do what no amount of money could ever reimburse them for …burying a child dead of cancer at the age of nine months; presiding over a church broken up by angry and powerful members who show nothing of forbearance or grace (or even good sense). Out of the heat of these and countless other impossibly difficult circumstances, a heart for ministry (in the old sense of that word)  is confirmed.  Read through Paul’s epistles rather rapidly in three or four sittings  and observe that it was his relations with Christians that gave him the greatest pain. Should you end up in vocational ministry, your experience will not be any different. (Don Carson, Letters along the way, 136)  Free pdf

8. A conviction of the ultimate judgement. I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough (John Brown, cited in a Display of God’s Glory, 42) Free pdf


[1] Albert Mohler, The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters

God’s Sovereign Grace – Genesis 42-45

The Unlikely Rescue SQUAREYou may have seen in the news this week the story of a Canadian cyclist who had her bike stolen. She reported it to police, then the next day her friend saw an online ad for a bike that looked suspiciously like hers. She rang up, pretending to be interested in buying and organised to meet the man in a McDonalds car park. When she saw the bike she recognised by the stickers that it was definitely hers. She asked whether she could ride it around the car park. When the guy said yes, she got on the bike and just rode off, successfully stealing back her own bike.[1]

The police aren’t recommending others follow her method, but the story got worldwide coverage, in part I think because of the sense of justice that’s there. As we come to Genesis 42-45 we might expect a sense of justice as Joseph comes face to face with the brothers who heartlessly sold him into slavery over 20 years before. Yet what strikes you most about this passage is not the justice that comes to the brothers, but the grace that Joseph shows to them. There are things Joseph does in these chapters that appear harsh to the brothers, but overall as we’ll see Joseph’s attitude towards them is gracious.

The grace Joseph shows here is a picture of God’s grace towards all his children. In Jesus, God doesn’t treat us as we deserve, he shows us his grace, even when things may appear harsh to us. William Cowper put it this way, in his famous hymn, God moves in a mysterious way:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace,
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face

Even in the midst of terrible circumstances, God is always Sovereign, and gracious towards his children. As we look at these four chapters today, let’s notice three practical ways that God’s sovereign grace helps his people:

1. Hope as we struggle with grief

These four chapters describe two journeys to Egypt. There’s a lot of details, so let’s put up this brief overview to help us. It’s possible to see these two journeys as having 7 simple elements in common.

1st Journey 2nd Journey
1 Jacob sends sons to Egypt 42:1-4 43:1-14
2 Arrival in Egypt 42:5 43:15-25
3 First audience with Joseph 42:6-16 43:26-34
4 Brothers arrested 42:17 44:1-13
5 Second audience with Joseph 42:18-24 44:14-45:15
6 Departure from Egypt 42:25-28 45:16-24
7 Sons report back to Jacob 42:29-38 45:25-28

One obvious point as you look at this structure is that although Jacob goes on neither journey, both begin and end with him speaking. Jacob is the main father figure throughout this whole section of Genesis 37-50. Both journeys start with Jacob sending the brothers to Egypt and both end with his words as they report back to him.

Yet the words Jacob speaks at the end of the two journeys couldn’t be more different. At the end of the first journey he is full of grief when his sons report back, look at what he says in 42:36: You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me! Jacob has been grieving for over 20 years for Joseph, now he feels in total despair. Do you ever feel like that? Everything is against me! There is an element of self-pity here, he’s trying to blame his sons for everything. He doesn’t mention his own favouritism which also had a role, you can see it even as he continues in his grief, look what he says in v38 My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my grey head down to the grave in sorrow. He treats Benjamin as the only son he has left, when he has 10 other sons. There’s favouritism, there’s self-pity, there’s clearly troubled family relationships, but there’s also real grief. For all his imperfections, here is a father who has lost a son that he loves, and he’s struggling with grief.

What a contrast to Jacob’s words at the end of the second journey. Turn over to 45:27-28. It says But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, Im convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die. The first journey ends in despair, sorrow and grief but the second journey ends with hope as this old grieving man is revived, by God’s grace and looks forward to seeing his son again.

For some of you Father’s Day is a great day, you’re thankful for the father you have, for all his failings, imperfections, and his bad dad jokes, he’s loved you and provided you and cared for you, and you’re grateful. Yet for many of us today’s a hard day. Some of you were treated terribly by your father. For some of you, your family is fractured. Some of you are reminded of a family member you’ve lost and the grief is still real. Grief is a reality we will all struggle with.

A friend of mine was at a funeral with a family where the mother had tragically died. The children asked the father where their mother was now. The father was an atheist, he said to the children: Mummy isnt anywhere anymore, she just doesnt exist, thats all there is to it. He was at least being honest about the hopelessness of an atheist worldview. If that view is true, there’s nothing of real value you can say to bring hope in your grief.

Yet if that view is true, why do we grieve so much when we lose someone? Why do we yearn and long to see our loved ones who’ve died? The longing or yearning of grief points us to a reality that is there. Through Jesus that yearning and longing can one day be filled.

A friend of mine is quite young, he’s roughly my age, so he’s very young! Yet sadly this year he lost his wife to cancer. Like the atheist I just mentioned he is left to raise children on his own, but the difference between them in terms of hope couldn’t be greater. My friend and his wife as she was dying both found great hope in Revelation 21, God’s promise of the new heavens and the new earth, where God will wipe away all tears, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying of pain. His grief is real, yet in Jesus his hope is real.  God’s Sovereign Grace gives us hope, as we struggle with grief.

2. Transformation as we struggle with guilt

Throughout these chapters you see the brothers showing signs of the guilt they feel about what they had done to Joseph over 20 years before. Look what they say to each other in 42:21 Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; thats why this distress has come on us. They are struggling with guilt, over 20 years later they can still remember his distress as he pleaded with them, it’s still etched into their minds. They’re so plagued with guilt that they see everything bad that happens to them now as God’s punishment .  They start to blame each other, look at v22 Reuben replied, Didnt I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldnt listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood. Reuben tries to blame the others, yet though he may have planned to save him, he was just as much in on the 20 year cover up as the rest of them were.

Their feeling of guilt leads to fear. Look at 45:3 where Joseph finally reveals himself.  Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph! Is my father still living? But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. These brothers are full of fear and guilt, because of what they had done.

Christian counsellor, Ed Welch says in his estimation around 85% of the population feels guilty right now.[2] Across our planet, people try a whole variety of ways to deal with our feelings of guilt. Millions dip in sacred rivers, or go on pilgrimages, or do penance, or visit various counsellors, or resort to various substances to try to escape the feelings of guilt.

Of course there are different types of guilt. There is false guilt, feeling guilty about things we don’t need to, because of the wrong expectations or pressures others place on us, or we wrongly place on ourselves. Yet there is also real guilt, like that the brothers feel here, because we have done wrong, we have acted selfishly, harmed others and sinned against God. In God’s grace there is hope for our real guilt.

Notice how by God’s grace, the brothers in this chapter are not only forgiven by Joseph, but also slowly transformed. Joseph tests his brothers throughout these chapters to see if there’s any change. The tests all lead to this final test where he puts his silver cup into Benjamin’s sack then brings his brothers back and tells them they can all go free, except for Benjamin. It’s as though he’s testing them to see whether they’ll leave Benjamin in slavery to save themselves, just like they abandoned Joseph to slavery many years before.

Judah responds on behalf of the brothers, notice two remarkable things, about what he does. First look at 44:16 What can we say to my lord? Judah replied. What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants guilt. This the exact opposite of what we’ve sen previously, there’s no hiding or deceiving or blaming others, there’s an acknowledgement of guilt. Secondly he offers himself in the place of his brother Benjamin, 44:33, Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lords slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. We read those words and we think, is this the same Judah? The Judah, who back in 37 was the ringleader in selling Joseph to slavery, the Judah who in chapter 38 left his father’s family, and treated so terribly his daughter-in-law Tamar. Now this selfish Judah is selflessly offering himself in place of his younger brother. Judah is showing here, signs of repentance, of wanting to live God’s way instead of his ways, he’s honouring here the commitment he’d made to his father to personally guarantee Benjamin’s safety.

It’s clear that God in his grace, is slowly transforming these brothers. They aren’t perfect, there are still issues, yet God has used the testings and the hardships that he’s brought them through to bring about real transformation.

In selflessly offering himself as a substitute here, Judah unknowingly pointed forward to his descendent Jesus, the ultimate substitute. Unlike Judah, Jesus had no guilt, yet offered himself to take the place of all who would trust in him. Just as God in his grace slowly transformed these selfish brothers, so God in his grace can transform us as we bring our guilt to Jesus.

3. Power as we struggle to forgive

As you know one of the great things about serving with Rog, is that when we tease him, he laughs louder than all of us. He’s very happy to laugh at himself, which is good because it gives us plenty of things to laugh about it in the office. BikeOfficeOne of the things we like to tease Rog about is the time he rode his bike to the office. I took a picture of it. If you know Rog, you’ll know he doesn’t really place much value on exercise, but if you would have gone into the office any day over a two-week period last year, you would have seen Roger’s bike there in the hallway, and could have thought, wow our senior pastor rides his bike to work every day. But things aren’t always what they seem. The reality is that others from the office occasionally ride their bikes, and one day Rog joined in and rode his bike. Of course it is mostly downhill from Morpeth manor to East Maitland, so it’s not exactly that hard a ride, but it obviously took its toll because that afternoon he said, I don’t think I’ll ride back today, could someone give me a lift home? Each day after that we were waiting for the day when Rog would ride his bike home, but he never did and the bike just remained there in the office, finally after two weeks of his bike being in the office, one day he drove his LandCruiser to work, and that afternoon, loaded his bike in and drove home, we’ve never seen it since.

Things aren’t always what they appear . We see that here across these four chapters. Joseph who’s risen to great power in Egypt, appears to his brothers, who don’t yet recognise him to be quite harsh, he accuses them of being spies, he locks them up, he demands they bring Benjamin back, he appears harsh,  and yet things aren’t what they appear, we see things here, that the brothers don’t see, look at 42v24 Joseph turned away from them and began to weep. A number of times Joseph goes away in private to weep. His tears show that behind Joseph’s harsh exterior is a man with a deep affection for his family. As we look more closely we see that Joseph is treating his brothers across the chapters with grace and forgiveness. They’d left him to starve in a pit, but he gives them a huge feast in his home and twice gives them food to take home, so they don’t starve. They’d made money by selling him into slavery for silver, he doesn’t try to make any silver from them, instead he gives them back all their silver each time they come to buy food. They’d left him in slavery separating him from his father, Joseph has the power to do the same to them, but he twice sends them home in freedom to their father.

Can you imagine how difficult it would be to be so gracious towards people who had so mistreated you, it can be even harder to take when it comes from people close to you like your own family. How is Joseph, able to be so gracious and forgiving towards his brothers? Turn to chapter 45 and look at v4-5, Joseph has finally revealed himself to his brothers, and at the moment where you think he could get stuck into them, he shows his concern for them: Look what he says, v4-5 Then Joseph said to his brothers, Come close to me. When they had done so, he said, I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.

Notice it’s Joseph’s view of God that is enabling him to be so gracious to his brothers. Some people view humans as doing what they want and God as a kind of bystander letting things happen and helpless to do anything about it, other people have an opposite view which sees humans as just puppets who can’t be held responsible because they are just being manipulated by God, but notice the Bible’s view is more sophisticated than either of those.

Joseph doesn’t say to them – don’t worry it’s not your fault, you can’t be held responsible, he says – v4 you sold me into slavery, they are responsible for their own actions, yet at the same time he says, v5 God sent me here. He says it again in v7-8 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.  

Notice two things about God that are motivating Joseph here: God’s Sovereignty: Humans are responsible for their own actions, but God is so powerful, so Sovereign, that even humans making wrong choices can’t stop him working out his purposes. Secondly God’s grace – God sent me here he says to preserve for you a remnant, to save your lives. His brothers have acted terribly, yet God in his grace is saving them. Joseph is gracious to his brothers because he trusts in a God who is Sovereign and gracious.

When Steve Saint was 5 years old, he was anxiously waiting for his dad, a pilot to return from a trip he’d gone on with four other missionaries. He can remember looking waiting for the speck of the plane to appear in the sky as it always had previously, but it never came. His father, Nate Saint, was killed along with four other men by the Waodoni tribe, or Aucas they had tried to make contact with to share the gospel of Jesus.

It was difficult for Steve growing up without his father, yet he also says he had a front row seat to see some of the good God has done through that tragedy including the conversion of the man who killed his father. He says: I have personally paid a high price for what happened on Palm Beach. But…If I could go back now and rewrite the script, I would not change a single scene. I have come to understand that life is too complex and much too short to let amateurs direct the story. I would rather let the Master Storyteller do the writing.[3]

It would be easy you’d think for him to be bitter and angry towards those who killed his father, but instead he shows them forgiveness and love, because he sees God’s Sovereignty and his grace, his hand at work in all of this.

When Peter is preaching to the Jews in Jerusalem about Jesus, he says: This man was handed over to you by Gods deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23) He’s giving us the same view as Joseph – humans are responsible – you put him to death he says, yet God was still working through it, according to his deliberate plan and foreknowledge.  It’s there in the cross that we see God’s Sovereignty and his grace most clearly displayed.

What are you struggling with today? Are you struggling with grief, come to Jesus, come to the cross, there we find Jesus, going through grief, being separated from his Father, so that our grief will one day end. Are you struggling with guilt? Come to the cross, where you hear Jesus saying, it is finished. In Jesus there is nothing more that needs to be done for your sin to be completely forgiven. Ask God to grow your trust in what Jesus has done for you. Are you struggling to forgive? Come to the cross, see there God’s Sovereignty, his grace, his forgiveness offered to you, and find there the power to forgive those who have wronged you.

Transcript of Sermon preached at MEC on 1 September 2013. Audio here


[3] Steve Saint, End of the Spear, 59-60

God is with us – Genesis 39

11 x 8.5_Flyer.inddMartin Luther, the famous reformer, had a huge impact on world history, as he fought for important truths like the authority of the Bible, and the importance of faith in Jesus. Yet like all of us, he faced his own struggles. One time after experiencing a significant setback in his work, he became withdrawn and moody. He seemed so depressed that no words of counsel would penetrate his darkness. He would retreat to his study, only coming out to get meals, and ignoring his family.

After this had gone on for several days, he was helped by his wife, Katherine who showed both her wisdom, and a sense of humour. She came into his study dressed in black from head to toe. Luther looked at her and said, “Are you going to a funeral?”

 “No,” Katie replied, “but since you act as though God is dead, I wanted to join you in mourning.” [1] God promises his people he will be with us. God is with his people. Yet like Luther, we can often live and act as though God is dead, or against us, or not there at all.

The idea that God is with his people is clearly the big theme of Genesis 39. You can see v2 says the Lord was with Joseph, that’s repeated it in v3, the Lord was with him. That double repetition which begins the chapter, also ends it: v21, the Lord was with him, v23 the Lord was with Joseph. Joseph’s circumstances go up and down, but what does not change is that God was with him.

Stephen uses this exact phrase when he looks back on Joseph’s life: they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him (Acts 7:9). What does the idea of God being with us mean for modern people? What practical difference does it make if God is with us? Let’s ask that question and notice 4 things as we consider Genesis 39:

1. God’s presence in our loneliness

Earlier:  The LORD appeared to Isaac and said…Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. (Genesis 26:2-3).

That night the LORD appeared to [Isaac] and said, I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; (Genesis 26:24). Later God appears to Jacob in a dream and says: I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…(Genesis 28:15).

God’s invisible, he is Spirit, yet can be spiritually present with his people, watching over them, protecting them, directing what happens to them.  He’d promised to be with Isaac and Jacob in Canaan, but now Joseph, is a long way from the promised land, in Egypt, 100s of kilometres away. Many in that time believed in localised gods who would be with you in a certain geographical area, but here we see that the same God who promised to be with Isaac and Jacob in Canaan is now with Joseph in Egypt. God is not restricted to a region, he is able to be present with his people wherever they are.

It would be easy for Joseph to feel alone here, so far from home, so far from the father who loved him, no one who speaks his language here, no one follows his god, yet God was with him.

Loneliness is something all of us can face. In 1973 Rog was preschool age, Steve was a little older. I was, of course much younger!  In that year Billy Joel wrote Piano Man. It has a cheerful sounding chorus: sing us a song, you’re the piano man, sing us a song tonight, we’re all in the mood for a melody, and you’ve got us feeling alright. Yet in between that bright chorus are these sad, aching verses where he talks about the loneliness of the people who have come to the piano bar, ‘to forget about life for a while’.

There’s Paul who’s a real estate novelist, who never had time for a wife,
He’s talking to Davy, who’s still in the navy and probably will be for life.
The waitress is practicing politics, as the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone.

The song cries out with the loneliness of modern life. As modern people we can be very busy and have lots of things yet still often feel lonely. You can be lonely at any life stage: you can be lonely as a child or as a teenager, it’s so easy to feel left out of a group for some reason, but you can even feel lonely in the group. You can feel lonely if you’re single, but you can feel just as lonely in a marriage, you can feel lonely and isolated as a parent, or you can feel lonely and isolated as you age, you can have hundreds of Facebook friends or Instagram followers, yet still feel lonely.

It’s very practical to know that God is with us. Paul describes being a Christian: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20). He has this real sense of Jesus love for him, and Jesus presence with him, Jesus lives in him.

One of my earliest memories of the time that I first became a Christian, first put my trust in Jesus, was a realisation that Jesus was now with me, that I could talk to him anytime, whether I was in a room full of people, or on my own. Sometimes you may feel very aware of Jesus being with you, other times even though you may not feel anything, it’s good for us to remind ourselves, that if our trust is in Jesus, God is with us, Jesus comes to live in us through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus promises us that as we carry out his mission of making disciples: God has said, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20). Others may leave you, or let you down, but in Jesus God will never leave you, he will always be with you. Knowing that God is with us, frees us to love and serve others. We see that in Joseph, he’s not dwelling on loneliness, he’s getting living for God…

2. Integrity in our ordinary

At both ends of this chapter Joseph finds himself in terrible circumstances – he’s a slave in a foreign land, then a prisoner. In both situations it would be easy to become bitter, resentful, full of self-pity. Instead in both we find Joseph getting on, working, living a life of integrity, serving in the place God has put him. V4 Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. Joseph was about 17 when he was sold into slavery, and he was 30 when he later began to work for Pharaoh. Given that he spent at least 2 years in prison it seems Joseph was a slave to Potiphar for about 10 or 11 years. He would have had to start at the bottom, learn the language, learn the customs, yet clearly he demonstrates to Potiphar integrity and hard work. It’s similar in prison: V22 the warder put Joseph in charge of all those held in prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. Instead of bitterness and self-pity we see Joseph being recognised for his integrity and diligence.

Don Carson says this chapter demonstrates that sometimes God chooses to bless us and make us people of integrity in the midst of abominable circumstances, rather than change our circumstances. (Carson)[2]

Maybe you find yourself currently in awful circumstances, or just ordinary circumstances – perhaps you’re in a job you’re not enjoying, perhaps you’re out of work, perhaps you’re struggling with parenting, with your marriage, with illness or grief. Through Jesus, God is with us in all those situations. God can strengthen us and help us to be people of integrity, faithfully living for him where he has us.

3. Power in our temptations

Dave and Ryan were two men who had a lot in common. Both wept as they spoke to their pastor. Both were family men, both had a wife, and children, both had jobs, yet both stood to lose their families because they’d become enslaved to internet pornography. Both in tears said they were desperate to save their marriages.

Today some years later, only one of them has changed. One of them is reconciled to his wife and restored to a happy, porn-free life with his family. The other is divorced, separated from his kids, and tragically has even spent time in gaol because of how far he continued to go. Both of them shed tears when they met with their pastor because they’re wives were wanting to kick them out. For one those tears were tears of genuine repentance, they knew they had sinned against God, knew they needed God’s forgiveness and help to change, the other had tears of sorrow for being caught, and sorrow for the mess their life was in, but no real repentance.

When Joseph is faced with temptation here, you can see that he’s concerned not just about what a mess this might make of his life, but how much it would offend God – v9 how could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?

In his book, Finally Free, Heath Lambert tells the story of these two men. He says battling the temptation those men faced involves acting on three areas, which I think apply to many temptations i) Your desire, ii) Your time iii) Your access/ availability.  You could say Joseph takes steps in each area:

a) Your desire – notice that when Potiphar’s wife asks Joseph in v7 to come to bed with her, he calls this temptation for what it is, he doesn’t see it as merely a bit of harmless fun, a misdemeanour or even an affair – he calls it: v9 a wicked thing, a sin against God. Whatever short-term pleasure or attraction there might be in this temptation, it would only lead to pain, for him and others, but most of all he knew it was against God and his good ways. If God is with us, we can face temptation as he changes our desires, as more and more we learn to love and treasure him above whatever we are tempted by, and learn to hate the things he hates as we see the harm they will cause and the dishonour they bring to his name.

b) Your time –this temptation Joseph faces wasn’t just one-off, v10 says she spoke to him day after day. Some temptations that you might say no to initially, can wear you down over a period of time. It seems that one way Joseph counters that is by keeping himself busy with what he should be doing. He was in charge of the house, his master was away it would be easy for him to just slack off, but notice v11 says he went in to the house to attend to his duties. In the face of temptation, he keeps himself busy doing his duties. He doesn’t get lazy, or dwell on the temptation, or dwell on the sort of self-pity that might make him think he deserves a bit of pleasure after all he’s been through, he keeps himself productive.

c) Your access  – v10 says he refused to go to bed with her, or even to be with her. He doesn’t allow himself to be in a situation where he might be tempted further. When she tries to force herself on him, v12 he runs out of the house, rather than give in.

Whatever your temptation, whether it’s an adulterous relationship like here, a fantasy like pornography, or some other temptation, there are three practical areas God can help us all to work on: your desire, your time, and your access to that temptation.

There is no struggle for purity so intense that Jesus grace cannot win the battle. There is no consequence so steep that Jesus power cannot carry you through. Jesus grace to change you is stronger than [your temptations] power to destroy you. (Heath Lambert)

It would be easy to read this chapter, and think: Isn’t Joseph a great example? We need to be more like Joseph. The point of the passage is that Joseph is a great example because God is with him. Genesis 39 is about God more than it is about Joseph. That same God can be with us in Jesus.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13) 

4. Hope in our hardships

Joseph’s circumstances in this chapter seem to go from bad to worse. In chapter 37 his brothers ganged up on him, threw him into a pit, sold him to some Midianites or Ishmaelties who sold him to Potiphar, in Egypt. Then despite ten or so years of faithful service to potipar, he doesn’t get long service leave,  he gets thrown into gaol when he’s falsely accused.

In some ways this chapter is a great little snapshot of what life is often like for God’s people: sometimes things seem to be going well, other times we experience great hardship. Yet in all of these, God promises to be with his people.

Adoniram Judson was the first missionary to Burma. Baptists love him, because he was sent as a missionary by a church who baptised infants, but when he and his fellow missionaries got on the boat for their 6 month voyage, they just studied the Bible for the whole time, and by the time they got off at the other end they were convinced that the Bible shows baptism is only for believers. Baptists say, this shows that if it’s just you and your Bible without being influenced by all the errors of church history, you’ll always end up a Baptist!  But when he got to Burma, he struggled for years, seeing very little fruit in his early years, he suffered some great personal hardships, yet in the midst of huge difficulties, he had this great saying: The future is as bright as the promises of God (Adoniram Judson). Joseph alone in Egypt, he suffered unjustly, yet he had the promises of God, the promises we saw earlier given to Isaac and Jacob.

Earlier this year, one of Gloria’s cousins – Deb and her husband Darwin, sadly lost their young daughter Lizzie. She wrote some thoughts on her tumblr blog soon afterwards while she was away: As Im typing this, I am sitting in a beautiful hotel room, overlooking a busy harbour…the view outside is stunning – blue skies, dotted with white fluffy clouds, and a modern Asian landscape.  To get here, I sat in one of the best planes in the world, on one of the best seats money can buy.  I would trade everything that I have now, just to cuddle my Lizzie again…But the reality is this is our life now.  Theres no escape from reality. Darwin and I are grieving together… Lizzie was our third baby.  In 2008, after a year of trying I had a miscarriage at 12 weeks.  In 2010, after 2 years of trying, our baby John Dylan died at 19 weeks and 6 days, in utero.  On 4 July 2013 we lost our dear Lizzie, 19 months and 21 days.  This is our life now of double grief.[3]

It’s heartbreaking to hear of such grief. Even though we know suffering and grief are part of the Christian life, they are so hard when they come. Yet we have hope, because of God’s promises. On the same blog, she writes:  The alternative to trusting in Gods promises is utter darkness, bleak…My only hope is to trust in Jesus, to believe in the God that saves, our eternal God.  The God who always acts in love and never makes mistakes. (Deb Agahari)[4] God’s promises and his presence, bring hope in the midst of real suffering.

Genesis 39 is the third chapter in Genesis 37-50 which we are looking at this term. You could say there are two key markers at the two ends of this section. At one end in chapter 37 we have Joseph’s dream which tells of his family one day all bowing down to him. The dream shows us that right from the beginning God’s in control, he knows what his plan is for Joseph, none of the things that happen in this section catch God by surprise. That’s reinforced at the other end of the section, as Joseph looking back on all that has happened says to his brothers: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20). The ESV says: you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. The wording is very clear. God intended it for good, he meant it for good, it’s not that something happens here that God isn’t expecting, and he’s able to still use it or turn it for good, it says right from the beginning, God intended or meant to achieve good out of this. He was always in control.

When Potiphar’s wife wrongly accuses Joseph, she’s acting perhaps out of spite or revenge or bitterness, she intends evil, but God intends it for good. God always knew Joseph was going to suffer for his integrity, God knew he was going to suffer unjustly and end up in gaol. God is so big, that even intended evil, can be used for ultimate good.

If you’re a Christian and you’re suffering, your suffering hasn’t caught God by surprise, he knew about it, and he always intended this for your ultimate good. We can’t always see or know all the good he’s doing when we suffer, but we can know that in all things he is working to make us more like Jesus.

That’s who Joseph ultimately points us to. God was with Joseph, but Jesus is God, he was given the name Immanuel – God with us.

Like Joseph, Jesus left the homeland of a Father who loved him, but unlike Joseph, Jesus went willingly. Like Joseph, Jesus was subject to temptation and did not yield, even though Jesus’  temptation was even more extensive. Like Joseph Jesus was unjustly accused, but suffered far worse, going not just to gaol, but to the cross.

It’s in seeing that Christ suffered for us, that we most clearly see that God is with us. As Paul contemplates the cross he says: What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32).

In Jesus we can be confident that God is with us, God is for us. When we’re suffering, we may ask  why? Then we remember that the central symbol of Christianity has always been the cross. The cross shows us suffering is part of what it means to follow Jesus, the cross shows us that Christ suffered for us, the cross shows us that suffering for God’s people will one day end. The cross shows us God is with us.

Transcript of Sermon preached at MEC on 18 August 2013. Audio here

Ten Words of Grace Series

Below are links to the blog posts in our ten words of grace series:

Ten words of grace Overview: How do the ten commandments help us today?  (Deuteronomy 5:1-22)

Second Word: God’s Image – Deuteronomy 5:8-10

Third Word: God’s Name – Deuteronomy 5:11

Fourth Word: Rest – Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Fifth Word: Honour – Deuteronomy 5:16

Seventh Word: Purity – Deuteronomy 5:18

Eighth Word: Generosity – Deuteronomy 5:19

Tenth Word: Contentment – Deuteronomy 5:21