Thanks Through the Life of Joseph
For Humbling Us
Of all the things that get in our own way, pride is our own biggest obstacle. Why? Because it’s entirely unjustified. We are not good. We have nothing good in ourselves. We can produce nothing objectively good. Only God can do that. Only God can make us good. Only God can help us. Only God and his blessings are worth being proud of. When we start to have pride in ourselves, we need to be humbled.
Like Joseph. Joseph had gotten a bit of a big head. Dad liked him best of all his brothers. He had dreams that his family would bow down to him someday, and he was a little too happy to talk about that. And so, God humbled him. God took Joseph from his cushy place as Dad’s darling and sold him into slavery to remind him that he had no power of his own, that everything worth anything comes from God alone.
And so when we get too proud of ourselves, too confident in ourselves, we thank God that he takes the effort to humble us again, to take our power away, to show us how little we have on our own, so that we can return to the source of our real strength, God alone.
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” 21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
For His Own Timing
In an age of microwaves, the internet, smartphones, and other marvels, life has not gotten easier because of the conveniences, it has gotten more hectic. We expect everything immediately. I sent you a message an hour ago! I can’t believe it’ll take a full day before this is ready! These expectations only make life harder on us, we only contribute to it when we expect the same of others. And even moreso when we expect it of our God.
But God has his own timetable. With a perspective of time that we can’t match and wisdom beyond our understanding, God knows exactly when the right time to act is. And despite our best efforts to advise God, the time is not always what we think it should be, which would usually be “now”. God says be patient, I have better in mind for you.
Joseph had to understand this. He probably had hopes that he could be released from prison after helping one of Pharaoh’s own. But the time was not right. We’ll see shortly, he needed to stay where he was for now so that he could be in the right place to deliver a message from God to Pharaoh and in doing so save entire nations starvation.
For Daily Bread
The land of Egypt and surrounding nations were about to be in trouble. There would be seven very good years of harvest, but they would be followed by seven years of drought and famine. Imagine being lulled into the security of seven years of abundance, growing wasteful, and suddenly it’s all taken away from you. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe you’ve had that moment in your life where it felt like all was lost. But the God of grace and mercy promises to provide. Even to people who did not know him or worship him as God. So God put Joseph in the right place at the right time to warn Pharaoh of what was coming.
We thank God for providing. We are utterly dependent on our God in all ways, but sometimes we forget just how much we depend on him daily, even hourly. We need food and drink. Shelter and clothes. And our God provides daily. We don’t earn it. We don’t deserve it, but our God gives it to us all the same. It doesn’t always come in the way we expect, but our God never lets us down. And for that we give thanks. And we show our thanks by offering part of his gifts back to him.
For Joseph, things seemed to turn out alright. Yes, he had difficulty, but now he was second in command of Egypt. Not bad for starting as a slave. Joseph could have let the power and authority go to his head, but instead he recognized that he was only where he was by God’s hand and that God had only given him this honor in order to serve a greater good, the saving of lives.
It was this attitude that allowed him to face another challenge with a godly attitude; the reunion with his brothers. He had it within his authority to have them jailed the moment he saw them, even executed if he saw fit. But he didn’t. He recognized that he was as much a sinner as they each were. He recognized that through their sinful actions God had worked a greater good as he always does. Such understanding allowed him to face his brothers without anger and instead with forgiveness.
We give thanks to God that he allows the same in us. That by his spirit he creates hearts within us that are able to forgive just as he forgave us. We give great thanks that we are pardoned by the blood of Jesus, but we also give thanks that by his power we are able to release old hurts and grudges and live at peace with those who have wronged us. What a great gift to not need to be burdened and burned up from within by anger and rage but rather to be at peace, knowing that our God worked good for us even through the hurts, and knowing that the blood of Jesus paid for the crimes against us even as it paid for the crimes we ourselves committed. We give thanks that we are able to forgive.
For Our True Home
Despite all the good that happened with Joseph’s life, there was still a problem at the end of it. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Egypt was fine, and his family was provided for, but this wasn’t the place that God promised his great-grandfather. As fine as the living was, Joseph knew they wouldn’t stay. And he didn’t want them to stay, it wasn’t what God had in mind for them. Sure enough, down the road that would become very clear when the time came for Moses to lead the people out.
Despite everything that we have to be thankful for here and now, all the blessings God gives us, it is not perfect. It is far from it. Every day has its own pains and heartaches and troubles. Sometimes they pile on so deep and so quickly it could lead a person to despair. And so, we give thanks to our God that we are not staying here. This is not our true home, that is still to come.
There is much to be thankful for here and reasons to be happy while here. But we give thanks that God keeps our eyes down the path, in good times and bad, looking ahead to our true home that he has promised us. It is our greatest encouragement in all parts of life, that by the blood of Jesus we have an eternity with God to look forward to.
For the Savior
You might be surprised to hear that for as much attention as Joseph gets in the Bible, he’s not actually part of the line of the savior. That was his brother, Judah. Still, his life did serve one very important purpose. His actions and intervention during the Egyptian famine ensured that his family did not starve. His brothers lived, and their families lived. And through Judah, down through the line, was eventually born David the King and through David’s line was the ancestry of both Joseph and Mary, and from them, Jesus.
God made a promise in Eden, that someone would come to crush the serpent’s head. Jesus has done this for us. By Jesus we are saved. By Jesus are sins forgiven. By Jesus is the eternal home opened to us. Without him, this would all be meaningless. All the other things we might be thankful for are just dust in the wind, here and gone. Without Jesus the eternal gifts would not exist. Without Jesus we would have pale comforts for a short time until an eternal death.
And so more than anything this evening and every day, we give thanks for the Savior. We could lose everything, have all our earthly possessions taken from us, our family dead or gone, our health destroyed and be in pain every moment the rest of our lives and we could STILL be thankful, because it will end and Jesus will take us home. Above everything and at every moment, we give thanks for the savior Jesus.
Why Do Christians Suffer?
One of the first Scriptural principles that we learn about in Bible Basics OR Catechism is that suffering comes as a result of sin. If Adam and Eve hadn’t brought sin into the world, there wouldn’t be sin today AND there wouldn’t be suffering as a result of sin.
There wouldn’t be hangovers as a result of drinking too much because no one would drink too much.
There wouldn’t be heartache at the loss of a lover because people would get married and stay faithful to their spouse.
It’s easy to see why suffering happens when it's a direct result or natural consequence of sin.
…what about when the one who’s suffering is the one who’s following God?
I. The Godly Reaction to Suffering
Take a look at James 1:2. It says this, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Did you see that word? Pure joy! In the Greek, it says todo xara or all joy. As in, “The only feeling that I have about this situation is joy!” No sadness. No anger. No frustration. Complete joy. This is the kind of feeling you have when you win the new car on the Price is Right or when you get a hefty tax return or when your crush says, “Yes” to the dance.
That’s not uncommon for the Bible to tell us to be joyful. At Christmas “Joy to the world!” At Easter it’s a “Joyful Eastertide.”
But notice when James tells us to have that feeling. It isn’t during a festival. It’s “whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
Here’s what that meant for 1st century Christians. They were facing all kinds of trials. Some of them were thrown in prison. Others had stones thrown at them. Some were attacked by the vicious words of their families. Others were attacked by the vicious claws of the lions. Some were scolded by the teachers of the law. Others were ridiculed by the Roman soldiers. But no matter the trial, James gives them the same guiding principle for how to react to these trials.
Notice it says, “Of many kinds.” Not just 1st century Jewish Christian kinds. That means God wants Christians of all centuries to consider it joy. He wants Christians of the 21st century to consider their trials pure joy.
He wants you to consider your trials of all kinds joy.
Consider it joy…when your phone breaks.
Consider it joy…when you don’ t make the baseball team.
Consider it joy…when you lose your job.
Do a dance…when you can’t pay the rent.
Jump up and down…when you get diagnosed with cancer.
Praise God…when someone calls you an idiot on Facebook.
Is that how you usually react to suffering? Not so much. (I’m not even that nice if I have to suffer through a lukewarm coffee.)
Truth is that if you aren’t responding to suffering with joy, then you’re not responding the way God wants you to.
II. The Reason for Joy
OK, so I have been reacting to my suffering in a sinful manner, pastor! Fine. That’s wrong. But how am I supposed to be joyful? What is there to be joyful about?
Ever gone running before? I don’t think anyone likes to go running. At least not based on the way it makes you feel while you are running. Your lungs starts to burn. Your calves get tired. You get a side ache. It’s hard to breathe. Sweat gets into your eyes and stings your pupils.
Yet there are thousands of people who go running every morning within a one mile radius of this church. It doesn’t fail. Whether it’s early in the morning or later in the evening, I see plenty of people out on the sidewalks running, struggling to get in a workout.
But it isn’t the suffering that causes them to run.
It’s the results.
It’s the same thing with suffering through whatever trial God has given you. Take a look at what the next verse says about it: Consider it pure joy, because…the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
If you quit running, you’ll never be able to run the 5k.
If you quit lifting weights, you’ll never be able to bench press 200 lbs.
If you quit dieting, you’ll never lose the 20 lbs you were hoping for.
If you quit going through the God directed trials that you’re going through, you’ll never learn to persevere.
Read that again.
If you quit going through the God directed trials that you’re going through, you’ll never learn to persevere.
What that means is: If you decide you’d prefer to curse God and do whatever you want… You will not have learned perseverance.
There are other options:
I’ll steal some money so that I don’t have to be poor.
I’ll disown God so my atheist friends won’t make fun of me.
I’ll quit this Christian thing because it hasn’t gotten me any of the earthly blessings I was looking for.
There are other options; but none of them are godly. None of them teach perseverance.
Therefore, 4 “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
If you looked into Ms. Julianna’s office, you’ll see some baby chicks. We’ve had those chicks for three weeks. Hatched them from eggs. Flipping them three times a day. Keeping the make shift ice box incubator at a balmy 100 degrees. Putting in fresh soaked sponges so that the humidity was just right.
As it got closer to a due date, it gets tougher. You want to help the chicks out. You want to help crack the eggs. You want to help them so that they don’t have to go through the pain of being cramped up, surrounded by a heavy membrane and using all of their newborn energy just to break free.
But you can’t. You can’t help them, because your help condemns them. If you help them, they’ll be too weak! They won’t survive in the world. They won’t persevere.
When you are suffering from God’s induced trials, understand – God is teaching you to persevere. That’s what he wants for you! He wants your faith to continue to grow. To come to maturity. To become so strong that it will remain in Him through the next faith threatening trial.
Think of it this way:
If you’ve lost your job before and God kept you safe, why wouldn’t you trust that God would provide for the rent money this month?
If you’ve lost a boyfriend before and God still provided you with fulfillment, isn’t it easier to trust that God will get you through the next break up?
If you’ve gone through a life threatening illness and God pulled you out just fine, then what’s another life threatening illness to you?
And here is God’s ultimate goal: It isn’t to just get you through the weeks without a paycheck. It isn’t just to get you through the pain of a breakup. It isn’t just to get you through a couple more months on this earth.
It’s to get you through life – this sin filled, struggle filled, unfair life -- with faith in Him. It’s this:
12 “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
Immediately, our thoughts go to our Lord. Our Savior Jesus who lost everything! Our Savior who lost his heavenly home. Who lost his earthly family. Who lost all of his friends, all of his supporters, all of his freedom. He was handcuffed, falsely accused, and spat on until he lost all his dignity. He was beaten, punched, and whipped until he lost most of his blood. He was nailed hand and foot to a cross until he lost his life.
But Jesus never stopped the suffering. He never gave up. Why? Because of the crown of Life. Because He wanted to get the crown of life. Only – it wasn’t his crown of life.
It was yours. A crown of life that he won for you. A crown of life that he has given to you.
A crown of life that he doesn’t want you to lose…so badly that …He’s willing to do whatever it takes to help you keep it.
Ever heard the story of Job? Job was a godly man. He worshipped the Lord when others didn’t. He gave God thanks when no one else remembered to. He offered sacrifices to God for his sons and daughters in hopes that God might have mercy on them for their sins!
But the devil couldn’t believe it. He came to God and said, “The only reason Job likes you is because you give him stuff. If you give him any kind of suffering, his faith will fail. He will not follow you.”
So…God took everything away from Job.
Sabeans attacked and stole all of his donkeys.
The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up his sheep and their shepherds.
A group of raiders surrounded his camels and made off with every last one of them.
A tornado-like wind collapsed the house that his children were eating in and all of his children – every last one of them – died.
To top it all off, his body was filled with sickly boils that caused him to spend his weeks in the dust, in the sun, slowly waiting for God to bring relief.
His friends couldn’t handle it: “Curse God and die! You idiot! He doesn’t care for you. Take your life. Give up! Stop acting like God is going to save you. Stop suffering and leave this world.”
But…Job didn’t. Job held on. Job spoke: I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me.
His heart. It yearns?
That’s joy. That’s the crown of life.
God kept Job safe. God used that calamity to strengthen his faith. By the end of the book, Job’s faith is remaining strong and God grants relief.
Question: Do you think there was anything that would ever be able separate him from faith in God? Not so much. He persevered.
Capture the mindset that the Apostle James uses to summarize this section. 17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Notice it says every gift. Not just the ones that look like good gifts. Not just a new job, a healthy diagnoses, or a new friendship. Give thanks for the lost job, the unhealthy diagnoses, and the broken friendship.
Every gift is good – even the ones that look bad -- because our Heavenly Father is in control. He won’t let anything happen to us that isn’t for our eternal good.
When that becomes your mindset, then suddenly even the trials become pure joy.
Pure joy because God cares.
Pure joy because God loves.
Pure joy because God is strengthening you to persevere.
Pure joy because God has a crown of life in store for you.
What's God Like?
We have an interesting board game at our house called What’s Yours Like? Let me tell you how it works. One player is identified as the guesser. The guesser takes turn asking the others playing What’s Yours Like?
The other players answer with one adjective based on what the drawn card for the round says. Here’s the catch. The people will be talking about the same thing, but they’ll all be talking about a different version of the same thing.
For example, imagine the card says, “Hair.” Julianna says, “Beautiful.” Another one of you says, “Curly.” Another says, “Short.” I say, “Thinning.”
It’s kind of fun. You use one adjective to describe your version of the category – all the guesser has to do is identify what category is on the card.
This got me thinking. What if the card that we got was “God.” What’s your God Like? Let’s play the game right now. If you had to come up with one word to describe your God – what would it be?
Big? Powerful? Merciful? Ancient?
I. The Fractured Human Perspective of God’s Greatness
Let’s pretend we’re playing that game with King David. Take a look at his adjective in Psalm 153:3. He writes, “Great is the Lord and most-worthy of praise.”
What do you think? Is that a fair adjective to use? Is God really Great?
I imagine that here at church just about all of your will agree. In part, because we’re surrounded by the great things God has done. Partly because who wants to say in front of the pastor “He’s not all that great.” Great is a “great” adjective to use in church. Later in this very service we’re singing the song “How Great is our God!” Makes sense. You probably believe it, too.
But is that always the adjective you would use?
What about when you are surrounded by a bunch of unbelievers who will ridicule unless you use the adjective “non-existent?”
What about when you are months behind on the rent and the McDonald's buy one get one sundae coupon is all you have for your kid's evening meal?
What about when you sabotaged your relationship, you prayed to God about it and he hasn’t fixed it yet?
What about when you’re in the hospital. You’re sick. You’re dying.
What about when you’ve moved to Raleigh and feel…lost? Alone?
Is great really the adjective you’re using to describe God then?
Or is it more like:
This contrasts David’s words. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.
Granted. You might be thinking: Isn’t he kinda God’s boy? Didn’t God help him slay a giant named Goliath? Didn’t God help him become King of Israel? Didn’t God help him with military victory after military victory? If my life was like David’s, sure I’d say God is great.
But it isn’t.
Ever seen Bruce Almighty? It’s a movie starring Jim Carrey. In it, God -- played by Morgan Freeman -- takes a vacation and gives Jim Carey all his powers. What ensues is a bumbling, mistake making, slapstick hilarity. Bruce is a fractured human. He is constantly messing up while being God.
It's easy to think of God like that. A bumbling, stumbling, mistake making, slapstick comedy God. That’s because it’s all we know!
Ever seen the Geico commercial where humans happen to humans? The one human shuts the garage door on the other human's car – the one human accidently clips off another person’s car door as he opens it up. The one human hits the other human's parked card as he’s trying to parallel park.
We’re flawed. The things we do are flawed. Therefore, since it’s all we know – we assume God is flawed.
But TIME OUT! Isn’t the thing that we base the ‘flawness’ of God upon, the very thing that should cause us to question our own perception of God?
In other words – If we’re flawed, how can we trust our flawed interpretation that God is flawed?
Isn’t it, flawed?
II. The Unfathomability of God’s Greatness.
Take a look at what God’s Word says. God’s Word isn’t flawed. It says this: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” That’s God’s Word. It’s flawless. It should be enough to settle the argument for us.
But you might be thinking – isn’t that God’s Word? Isn’t that God saying God is great? Our flawed logic will think – why should I trust him? That’s like stopping by for a cup of coffee simply because the sign in the window says “It’s the best cup of coffee.” When you taste that three day old Folgers – you won’t be all that impressed.
1) The Father is Great
Instead of just hearing God says he’s great, listen to the great things it tells us about God. Judge for yourselves. Take a look at 1 John 5:4. "Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”
The world is exactly what we’ve been trying to overcome. It’s the flawed state of our world – it’s the flawed state of ourselves.
It’s sin. Sinful reasoning. Sinful actions. Sinful consequences. Sinful harming of one another. Sinful words leading to sinful decisions leading to sinful results. And ultimately sinful consequences. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
But look at who has the power to overcome the world; its sin and its death. It isn’t us! It’s everyone born of God. Everyone who has God as our Father!
Because this is how great the Father is! He is completely perfect. There isn’t a flaw in his being. He perfectly made a plan to overcome the awful nature of sin and the terrible plans of the devil. He guided history throughout time to lead to our salvation. He hatched an incredible plan that no flawed human would ever be able to engineer, recreate, or bring to completion.
The Father did what we could not do. He saved us from sin and He saved us from death. That’s GREAT!
Let’s keep reading and see why else the Father is so great…
2) The Son is Great
Verse 4 says, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Wait a second. That seems different. I thought we said that those who overcome are the ones who have God as their Father – born of God! This gives the credit to someone else – someone who is called the Son God.
And it’s true! Because it was the Son who fulfilled the Father’s plan. Jesus was born on earth of a virgin mother. He lived a life on this earth without a single flawed decision and without a single flawed action. (He didn’t have any sin!) He lived perfectly – which is a great feat in and of itself – but then he died innocently. In a GREAT EXCHANGE. He took on your imperfections and died for you. By faith in Him, he gives you his perfection – he releases your body from frailty (you will live eternally) and he removes from the Father’s perspective all of your imperfections. (You are forgiven.)
The Father’s greatest and The Son is greatest!?!
But – how can there be two greatests?
3) The Holy Spirit is Great!
Before you get to thinking too hard – Why don’t we let God’s Word throw one more monkey wrench into the question. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
In other words – we wouldn’t even know who Jesus is NOR would we know God’s plan for us, if the Spirit – the Holy Spirit – wasn’t involved. He’s the Truth. He speaks the Truth.
This means the Holy Spirit is Great, too! He works on our sin deadened hearts and brings them to life. He takes totally sin darkened lives and transforms them for good! He crosses cultural barriers and unites Christians together of all walks of life. He spends time and unites us together with those already in heaven.
The Holy Spirit does great things! It’s not unfair to say He’s the greatest. He’s God.
Is this just a matter of subjective perspective? It’s like trying to pick between Pizza Hut and Papa John’s and Little Caesars. They both come pretty quickly. They both taste fairly meaty. They all offer stuffed crust. Papa John’s gives pepperoncinis; but Pizza Hut has better commercials. But only Little Caesars let’s you walk in and out in less time than it takes to go to the ATM with a Hot N’ Ready to go pizza!
The Father is the great.
The Son is the great.
The Holy Spirit is the great.
But…which do we properly call the Greatest? Whom do we properly call God? Is it the Father, is it the Son, or is it the Holy Spirit?
7 There are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. There’s some interesting ways to interpret that. One interpretation is that this is a reference to the three that we just talked about. The Spirit refers to the Spirit. The water – refers to the flood – something that came from the mind of the Father himself. The Blood? That refers to our Savior Jesus Christ – who came to suffer the law breaking consequences that we deserved.
Notice what is says. All three are in agreement.
But this is about more than just three superbeings being on the same team. This isn’t the Avengers, the Justice League or the Powerpuff Girls.
The Father, the Son and the Spirit are in agreement, because they are one. Three in person. One in being. Triune God. Three-in-One.
This flies in the face of all human reason. I get it. But remember what we talked about earlier? Human logic is flawed. It’s sinful. It’s not God logic. Listen to what it says next: We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.
It’s the Greatness of our Father – Holy, powerful, Creator and eternal planner; the greatness of the Son – perfect, loving, mercifully and risen; AND the greatness of the Spirit – life giving, faith producing, world changing Counselor ---- all combined into One.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) Make Him Your God.
Make the Triune God yours. Believe him. There are incredible benefits:
1 John 5:11-12 tells us about all those benefits: And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life!
Is that you? Think about this – even though the world may be tough. Even though life may be flawed. Even though things might not always feel great…
…they are great. Great because in our Triune God, you've overcome.
You’ve overcome sin.
You’ve overcome the devil.
You’ve overcome death.
You’ve overcome whatever this world can throw at you.
You’ve overcome, because God – Father, Son and Spirit!
2) Make Your Adjective Clear!
Back to the What’s Yours Like? game. As fun as it is, there is probably not a worse adjective to give than simply “great.” Because what does that really mean? Great like big? Great like awesome? Great like Frosted Flakes? If you want to win, give that adjective. It’ll confuse the guesser. If you want to be fair, make the adjective clear.
Make your adjective for God clear!
Because it's very easy for our adjectives to be unclear to others.
Daddy, you say God is great -- but why isn’t he greater than your pillow on a Sunday morning?
Honey, I know you say God is great -- but why is the sixth episode of Arrested Development on Netflix more important than a Bible study?
Friend, I know you say God is great -- why do you believe that your problems are beyond him?
Make sure that people understand who you think is the Greatest. Because our God is the Greatest – and unfathomably so.
And God? He's given an adjective for you. When the devil comes and asks Him, What's Yours Like? and his crooked, nailed finger is pointing at you...God uses an interesting adjective to describe you:
Why Are People so Divided?
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Peter said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel," “In the last days, God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ "
I. Back When People were United
Take a look at Genesis 11. This takes place right after the worldwide flood. God had sent this flood to reset the world. There had been thousands of unbelievers – and only 8 – yes, 8 – believers. (If you ever feel alone in your faith right now, think about what it would have been like back then. That’s enough believers to maybe fill up 1 pew here in church).
In flooding the earth, God pressed the reset button. Genesis 10 talks about how that family of believers grew. They had kids and their sons and daughters had kids (and so on and so on). Which means that when you get to Genesis 11 – the people had one awesome, uniting factor. They were of the same family. They had the same lineage.
I don’t where you’re from, but whatever your culture, I imagine you’re proud of it. It’s ok to be proud of your culture. Maybe you enjoy that kind of food that reminds you of your culture. That’s great! I love cheese because of my German roots. You might love sushi because of your Japanese roots or barbecue because of your Southern roots. That fine. It’s good to be proud of your culture.
The problem is when we start setting up our culture as better than another culture. There will be problems. No one likes to hear that their culture is worse than another.
So can you imagine what is what like to not have that be an issue?
"What’s your favorite kind of food? Ancient human food. That’s where my family’s from.” "What!?! Me too! I’m a human too!” "That’s awesome. Let’s get together and eat human food, drink human drinks, and we can set up an ancient human restaurant!"
Besides making for a boring variety in food trucks, you get the drift. They didn’t have to argue about culture. That made them united.
That’s not all they had in common. Take a look at Genesis 11:1. Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. In the Hebrew, that literally means “They had a common lip.” That doesn’t mean they shared the same lip OR even that their lips looked similar. It’s a figure of speech meaning that they had the same language.
Have you ever tried to learn a language? It’s quite, difficult. I’m trying to learn Spanish right now using the DuoLingo app. I’ve been stuck at 53% fluency for about three months – Remembering to do it every day is difficult. It’s why I only know “un poquito Espanol”.
So can you imagine a world in which the Rosetta Stone language learning software did not exist? A world where there weren’t Second Language electives in school? A language in which you didn’t get upset that you couldn’t communicate with tech support from another country OR you went on a trip and didn’t have to carry a pocket dictionary with you just to order “ein Bier.”
What I’m saying is: Not having language barriers must have made for very pleasant communication. It must have really united those early humans.
Then, look at verse 2: “As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” Now Shinar is eastward of where they were originally. Remember – Noah and his family had come down off of Mt. Ararat. It’s not a mountain that we can pinpoint today, but a good guess is that it’s somewhere in the middle east. The Plain of Shinar would be more East than that. A lot of scholar think that this would become Babylon.
This leads to one more commonality among these humans. They all shared the same land.
This means they all wanted the same geographic region to succeed! It was the Plains of Shinar Mets v. the Plains of Shinar Yankees – and everybody was cheering for the team from the Plains of Shinar. All the economic funding, all of their working, all of their prayers, all of their time, all of their effort went towards building up the Plains of Shinar.
In fact, this led to one more thing they all had in common. Check out verse 3-4. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a toward that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
In other words – they shared the same plan.
This wasn’t the idea of some dictator NOR was it a politic thought that was pushed through the media. Notice it says “They said to each other.” Everyone had the same thought. Everyone had the same desire. Everyone had the same goal – let’s build a giant tower so that this city becomes the best city of all time! A memorial to how awesome we are!
So they got to work. Brick material gatherers gathered brick materials. Brick makers made bricks. Oven heaters heated ovens. Bricklayers laid bricks. Architects sipped their coffees and architected. Everyone worked on it. Everyone supported it. Everyone was for it. Everyone was on board with it.
Everyone…except the One they forgot.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Not that God didn’t notice before. God knows all things. He sees all things. He is by all things. But verse 5 describes how God made a concerted examination of the building project; he examined the building & their hearts and he saw a few very ugly things.
1) They were united in their disobedience.
If you go back to when Noah got off the ark, God gave a pretty simple command. He had just saved them from complete destruction on earth by warning Noah and telling him about the flood. Secondly, by wiping out unbelief so that he didn’t lose his people forever in hell. In return, he says to them, “Be fruitful, increase in number & fill the earth.” (9:1)
This is the exact opposite of their reasoning for building the tower. “Let’s build ourselves a city so that we might not be scattered over the face of the earth.”
In fact, when you take a look at their building materials, they decide to bake the bricks (most likely in ovens) rather than let them sundry which was the common way of making bricks at that time. They decided to use tar for mortar – which was different than the common adhesive used at that time.
The result? The bricks were more permanent. The adhesive was more permanent. The building was more permanent.
And so was the people’s disobedience.
2) They were united in their pride.
Did you notice that about their brainstorming session? They said, “Let us make bricks…let us bake thoroughly…let us make a name for ourselves.”
This is entirely different from how the people of God had acted in the past. In Genesis 4:26 it says the people began “to glorify the name of the Lord.” That means they sang songs to the Lord. They built houses to show God’s glory. They grew crops to God’s glory.
Is God’s name anywhere on this building? No. The people didn’t even recognize God. They only thought of themselves. They only wanted their own glory.
It’s like the guy who goes on TV after a star basketball performance and he says, “I earned this. I did great. I’m number one. I want to keep winning so that I can cement my own legacy and get some more glory!”
Your legacy? Your glory? What about the God who created you?
Take a look at what God does. “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
One minute – a guy is asking for a hammer; then next minute he is being told “No lo puedo descubrir.”
One minute – the foreman shouts: “Release the rock on three." The next he’s shouting "eins, zwei, drei!”
One minute everyone understand each other and everyone is getting along. The next minute? They’re confusing each other; arguing each other; and leaving their grand plan.
God scattered them from there over all the earth.
II. Now When People are Divided
But you know…What’s interesting? It wasn’t their new found differences that caused them to abandon their building project. It was the one thing they all had in common.
Pride. Sinful, disgusting, disobedient, pride.
It is the exact same thing that divides people today.
Instead of thinking what another’s culture is like and taking that into consideration, we think of our own and demand they take that into consideration.
Instead of saying, “How are things difficult for you?” we say, “Listen to how things are difficult for me!”
Instead of humbly accepting our failures in whatever culture we’re from, we love to blame others and force them to wear the label we’ve constructed.
Is it any wonder why we, as a people, are so divided? It’s because of what we have in common.
Jerusalem. A couple thousand years later.
The city was bustling. A group of Parthians are arguing with some Medes about the price of a horse. The Parthians are having a hard time understanding why that Arab wears his clothing that way. A Phrygian is having a hard time ordering off the local Hebrew menu and an Egyptian is giving the Roman guards an earful about why he hates their government.
Then, everyone quiets down. They hear something like a tornado wind coming from a small house in the corner of the market. From where they are looking, they see a group of men inside – little flames of fire on the top of their heads – as crowds start to gather, the men come out of the house. They begin speaking.
But not just in Hebrew. Not just in Latin either. In the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Jews, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cretans and Arabs.
While each person is hearing a different language, they are all hearing the same message – You’re sinners. You need a Savior. Jesus, who died and rose again is that Savior.
A few people mock them: “They have had too much wine.”
But one of the men stands up in reaction. He speaks with one voice – one voice heard by all their languages. 2 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
The men looked around. Different faces. Different skin shades. Different cultures. Different headdresses. But they all had the exact same look of concern on their face. “Brothers,” a phrase absent of any cultural bias, “what should we do? How do we defeat our sins? How do we get on God’s good side? How do we return to our God?”
Listen to Peter’s reply if you are wondering the same thing – “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins “
Notice it wasn’t any different for the different people gathered that day. He didn’t tell some to pray. Some to dance. Some to sing and some to chant. Nope. This was no time for culture. This was time to address the One Shared Problem with their One Shared Savior.
Brothers and sisters – this is how God defeats division.
First, He defeats the division between us and God! Jesus lived perfectly when we couldn’t; he died innocently in our place and he rose triumphantly to proclaim us at peace with God.
It means that your selfishness is forgiven. Your racist attitude are forgiven. Your sinful ethnocentric cultural pride is forgiven.
Then, God defeats the division amongst humans.
It’s pretty interesting. The people wanted to build a big old tower – a tower so big that they would be united around their own awesomeness and never be lost. But then sinful pride got in the way and they never completed it.
Now God has something for all of us to unite around. Something else tall. Something else up.
It doesn’t matter if your Persian or Greek, Mede or Roman, Jew or non-Jew. It doesn’t matter if you are European American, African American, Asian American, Latino American, Middle Eastern American or any other kind of American – of if you don’t even consider yourself American at all.
The Cross unites us. Jesus unites us. One Savior. One Ruler. One Lord. One family.
God does all this because the Holy Spirit works through this.
As great as the miracles were that day – a whirlwind sounds without any wind, flames of fire without any burning, languages spoken without any learning – the most incredible miracle of all was thousands united – united to God & united to each other. The Holy Spirit does this in spite of our sinfulness, in spite of our pride, in spite of our misunderstanding, cultural confusions, and the straight up racism of this world.
The Holy Spirit unites us as family in one faith!
May he continue to do so, now and always. Amen.
The Not-So-Simple Part
The scene is so simple.
A stable with a few wooden poles holding up a thatched roof. A mother wrapping her child in linen clothes. A father smiling gently towards them as he feeds his donkey. A cow lazily rolling over to stretch his hinds legs. A few shepherds walking toward the singular light of the hanging lantern – rubbing their hands for warmth.
Simple. Beautiful. Christmas.
But if you dig a little deep, there’s a lot going on there than meets the eyes. This is where Christmas gets complicated. Take a look with me at Hebrews 1. The writer will explain to us just how complicated and yet how beautiful Christmas really is.
There’s a lot in that section. Let’s take it apart.
1) The Radiance of God’s Glory
The Greek word there implies that the Son is actually producing that shine of the Glory of God. This is an interesting thought considering all the incredible things that God has made. He makes snowflakes that twinkle in the morning sunlight. He makes the golden colors of leaves in autumn. He makes the quiet sparkle of stars on a midwinter's night.
Jesus outshines all of them. In fact, it is Jesus alone who produces God’s glory in it’s truest form.
It’d be like saying Jesus is the bulb in the lamp; the flame on the candle; or the glitter on the homemade Christmas ornament. He is the part that shines and he is the part that brings glory.
That’s a little strange when you look at him on Christmas and see nothing more than a regular looking infant. Not a lot of hair; not very big fingers; mouth – most likely—closed and asleep. Not a single tooth sparkling in the moonlight.
2) The Impress of His Being
The English says, “exact representation,” but the Greek is clearly using a word here that was often associated with coin making. There would be an imprint, a press, that would impress upon the metal of the coin the exact representation that was wanted. It’s a word that was used for contract signing – so that the exact seal of the covenanting family would appear on the paperwork.
Jesus is the exact impress of God. He is the same. In form. In being. In essence.
Ever been to a wax museum? The representations there are eery. Wax Spock looks exact like Spock. Wax Lebron James is as tall as and muscular as Lebron James. Wax Oprah Winfrey has the same smile as the real Oprah Winfrey.
But they are still wax. They aren’t real. They aren’t the same.
Jesus is of the same essence. He is eternal, all powerful, all knowing, and present. Even though he doesn’t seem to know how to ask for a second helping of milk yet.
3) Bearing All Things
He is…sustaining all things by his powerful word. That’s God’s Work. Yet here it is attributed to Jesus. God holds up the stars. God holds up the sun. God sends the wind and the rain and the snow and the cold.
Hebrews says that Jesus does the same. That gets a bit strange.
Think about it: The infant is being held up by a few boards of wood. But at the same time the infant is sustaining those boards of wood together.
Not to mention the planets, Red Dwarf stars, and all of the cosmos.
4) Purification Provider
Hebrews speaks about it in past tense because it was written after this baby grew to adulthood and then sacrificed his life on the cross for us.
Amazing isn’t it? This is a supernatural, miraculous thing. Because Scripture says adult humans cannot cleanse themselves of sin. Maybe you know that. We can’t cleanse ourselves from guilt before God. Not with bleach. Not with all natural oatmeal soap. Not with trying hard or doing good or placing a long amount of time between sins.
Cleansing from sin – something that adults – we could not do – this little baby was pledged to do.
Strange? After all this baby isn’t even able to clean itself. Probably needs Mary to dab some spit up every couple of minutes.
5) At the Right Hand
Scripture continues, “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Again – past tense because the life of the baby had already happened. So look at God’s plan for the child. He will ascend to the heights. He be in heaven. He will sit at God’s right hand – the power hand. He will be as much in authority as God is in authority.
Again? Isn’t that pretty amazing? Especially considering the little child has not authority as to where he will go. He doesn’t even possess the speaking ability to demand Mary to transport him to one of the sheep for a sheepy back ride. He has no authority…
..and yet he has all authority?
6) Superior to the Angels
Hebrews continues, “He became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” It’s the greater than symbol. This Jesus is greater than the angels. He’s superior to them.
Angels are pretty great. They all shine brightly. They all frighten people whenever they appear. Some have wings. Some have instruments. They all have heavenly voices. A few are even given flaming swords to fight off the most powerful of demons.
This infant is greater? He can’t so much hold up a piece of straw to defend himself.
Angel means “messenger.” The baby? He is called “Jesus.” Jesus means “He saves.”
But what’s interesting is that the angels show no jealousy towards this infant. In fact, the angels prove all of these traits we’ve listed down. As strange as they might seem. These angels – who cannot sin – who are holy – who do God’s bidding. They appear to shepherds and they begin to sing the praises of this little infant child: "Do not be afraid; I bring you good news of great joy for all the people, today a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you; you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in the manger.”
Did you hear that juxtaposition? Christ the LORD/baby lying in a manger. If he weren’t a holy, God following, speaking the truth announced by angels – we’d probably have to doubt him.
But he isn’t. In fact, the other angels have this angel’s back: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
II. The Awesome Part
It doesn’t stop there.
The next two verses of Hebrews reveal to us WHY all this is possible and yet; they open up a whole different set of questions – that are absolutely beyond our puny human minds: To which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father?” Or again, “I will be his Father and he will be my Son?”
These are Old Testament references. They are a part of God’s Word that reveal Jesus is not just some kind of super angel. He isn’t just some kind of mini God. He’s not just a Hercules-like man infused with God’s power.
He is actually, literally, really --- God’s own Son.
That doesn’t mean God’s son like we are all God’s children in the sense that we are all created by him.
This is God from God. Light from Light. True God from true God. Essence from essence. Being from being. Remember: An exact imprintation of his being – in every way. From ruling the stars above to wiping out sin below.
Then, to twist it one last time, look at verse 6: When God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “let all God’s angels worship him.”
Does anyone know the First Commandment? You shall have no other gods. Don’t worship them. Throughout the Old Testament the LORD shows how serious He is about that commandment. He destroys the followers of Baal. He punishes the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf. He sends them into captivity for setting up Asherah poles.
But Jesus? Here God says, “Worship him.” On Christmas night, he sent his angels to worship him. He predicted Jesus’ coming for thousands of years. He sent a star to guide magi from the east to him. He spoke at Jesus’ baptism and said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
He brought Him back to life. Even after Jesus had spent his life telling the people to worship him as true God.
What does all this mean? Either God – who knows all and is everywhere – somehow missed this false revolt of Jesus or Jesus is God.
The infinite being contained within a manger.
The eternal of ages born on a Bethlehem night.
The all powerful Protector watched over by his step dad.
The all knowing Wisdom taking in his first glances of the world.
But also true.
True in every way. Jesus is true God come to save you.
Believe it. Amen.