The Story So Far, Week 4

This week we made it through some of the most monumental events in the history of God’s people: their captivity in Egypt, the Passover, and the Exodus. It was a lot to cover in only sixteen chapters. In Luke we see the birth of Jesus and John foretold, people recognize Jesus’ for who he is, whether it is Simeon or shepherds, and Jesus initiates his public ministry with fasting and teaching in the synagogue. We also read the first four of the psalms.

Like in the beginning of the Gospel of John, John the Baptist plays a large part in the opening chapters of Luke. What I love about him is his amazing humility. The people around him see his boldness and how he speaks with authority, and his followers don’t want anyone to detract from his notoriety, but John recognizes that he is only to prepare a way for Jesus. He is unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. John’s job, and a job he is delighted to do, is to point others away from himself and to Jesus.

It’s a humility that recognizes that we shouldn’t seek out glory for ourselves or try to claim credit for work that only God can do. God is the center of this whole story.

We see God as the main player in our Old Testament readings. Looking back to Joseph, we saw how only God could bring him from slavery into the courts of Pharaoh, and only God is able to do it again with Moses. Because of the persecution of the people of Israel, when he is just a baby, Moses is set adrift and found in a river. It is the daughter of Pharaoh who finds him, has him cared for, and makes him her son. Joseph and Moses have two very different ways to be brought into Pharaoh’s courts, but God is there in both.

When Moses is called by God to return to Pharaoh’s courts, to the very person who had sought to kill him, again it is only achieved because God is with him. God gives him words, God reveals his name to Moses, he promises he’ll work signs and wonders through Moses, and he even provides Aaron. Moses is a great character from our history, but like John the Baptist, his greatness is only in that he points others to God. There is no way Moses is taking credit for parting the Red Sea. His job is to make sure the world knows that it is our God who has done such a marvelous work.

That is our job as well. We don’t broadcast how great we are or what great things we have done. We just point others to our God and give him credit for all the good things that he has done.

A Pharaoh Who Did Not Know Joseph

Exodus changes the tone quickly from the prosperity Joseph and his family enjoyed at the end of Genesis, and it does so in the first chapter with the line in verse eight: “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

This leads to the growing oppression of the people of Israel and sets the stage for what we know comes later in Exodus. Because he did not know Joseph, the king (or pharaoh), does not know the debt Joseph is owed for saving the land from famine. He does not know of the commitments made and relationships built. What this pharaoh does know is that the people of Israel are too many and too mighty.

Knowing your history is important as it helps shape our future and inform our decisions. Paul reminds the church of its history in 1 Corinthians 10, urging his readers not to be ignorant of what our ancestors went through and he does so that we may learn from their mistakes. If we don’t learn from the mistakes of others, we are bound to learn from our own. Paul reminds us that our ancestors, after the Exodus, were lead by a cloud, passed through the sea, were fed with bread from heaven, and yet they still turn from God to idols. Paul tells us that ignorance is not bliss, it is folly. 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 says:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the age has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Learning from these examples is at times the way of escape. So let us choose to learn our history and learn from it, not choosing ignorance that will lead us to repeat the sins of others.

The Story So Far, Week 3

Dressed for success

In reading about Joseph, a story I’ve read before, heard a lot about, and have even watched a movie on, it was fun to see what jumped out this time. We all know Joseph for his coat of many colors. It was given to him by his father Jacob, because Jacob loved Joseph dearly. It was an outward sign of his father’s favor.

But that robe would later be a sign of his brother’s treachery, as they take his robe and give it to Jacob indicating Joseph had been killed by an animal. Joseph goes from being loved in his father’s house, to being stripped of his fine clothes, sold into slavery, and he ends up working in Potiphar’s house.

But God was still with him as he prospered in all he did and found favor in Potiphar’s eyes. Unfortunately again Joseph’s dress was used in a plot for his harm. After rejecting advances from Potiphar’s wife and in the process leaving his cloak behind as he fled, Potiphar’s wife takes out her anger against Joseph by presenting the cloak as though it were proof of his misdeeds.

Joseph is again upended and goes to prison, where again he prospers and finds favor with those around him. Joseph ends up, through the work of God in giving him interpretations of dreams, leaving prison to be the highest ranking man in Egypt, except for Pharaoh himself. He had been robbed of his life by his brothers when they stripped him of his robe, but now he is restored by Pharaoh who, in chapter 41, “took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.” Again we have an outward sign of Joseph’s status. He is dressed in such a way by Pharaoh for he is valued and given great responsibility in the land.

We see clothing play a part in another story that will be read in the coming weeks from Luke. The prodigal son leaves his father’s house and upon his long-awaited return is dressed in a ring and given shoes and the household is told to make preparation for a great celebration. The clothing signifies the father’s joy and acceptance of his son.

We might not give such thought to how we are dressed or how we see others dressed, but how we are clothed matters greatly in another sense. In 1 Peter 5 we are told to clothe ourselves not in literal attire, but in humility, for God opposes the proud. The dress of a Christian is to have certain characteristics like humility, but none as important as what we see in Romans 13:14. In the NIV is says:

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…

Whatever status is afforded to us by the way that we dress in this life cannot compare to the status that comes by our being clothed with Christ. Our clothes represent much of who we are when we are clothed in him. For when that is the case, we who are sinners gain instead the appearance of Christ’s righteousness. When our God sees us, he does not see our sin, instead he sees the perfection of his Son.

As we close out Genesis and John, the contrast is clear. So many figures of old are just ordinary like you and me. The only extraordinary one is seen in the gospels, and that is Jesus Christ. We do not boast in Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, nor can we boast in ourselves. We only boast in Christ. If not for our being clothed in him, boasting in his appearance, we would be nothing.

Look Out for Joseph

We finish Genesis reading about Joseph and we learn that he was more than just a stylish dresser. Pay close attention to him and how he differs from previous characters of the book. Whereas Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel were blessed in many ways, but continued to mix their faithfulness with sin, Joseph’s situation is very different. He is hated by his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold to slavery, and labors in a foreign land, and how does he respond?

Others couple God’s explicit blessings with their own mistakes. Abraham is concerned for his safety so he lies about Sarah, multiple times. Jacob is characterized by his trickery in order to receive further blessings. But, Joseph in the midst of trials and difficulties exhibits strong character.

He brings in a different pattern, so pay attention to him and how he acts, regardless of the circumstances, as we finish Genesis.