Wednesday, May 26, 2021

"The Lord of Life and Death" - Henry Knapp

Dysfunction Reigns!

Families are something else. They are wonderfully and beautifully made with intricacy and intimacy—and wildly off-kilter and filled with brokenness and chaos. We don’t have to just look at our own immediate and extended families to discover this truth, we can look right into the pages of Scripture. Our Genesis 25 passage this week about the birth of Jacob and Esau (and their parents who played favorites!) stands out to me as a role model of what a dysfunctional family often consists of. Author Jon Bloom says it the best regarding our family life and the portrayal of families in the pages of the Bible:

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to find an example of what we would call a “healthy family” in the Bible? It’s a lot easier to find families with a lot of sin and a lot of pain than to find families with a lot of harmony. For example, here’s just a sampling from Genesis:
• The first recorded husband and wife calamitously disobey God (Genesis 3)
• Their firstborn commits fratricide (Genesis 4:8)
• Sarah’s grief over infertility moves her to give her servant, Hagar, to Abraham as a concubine to bear a surrogate child (Genesis 16). When it happens, Sarah abuses Hagar in jealous anger. Abraham is passive in the whole affair.
• Lot, reluctant to leave sexually perverse Sodom, his home, has to be dragged out by angels and then weeks later his daughters seduce him into drunken incest (Genesis 19).
• Isaac and Rebecca play favorites with their twin boys, whose sibling rivalry becomes one of the worst in history (Genesis 25).
• Esau has no discernment. He sells his birthright for soup (Genesis 25), grieves his parents by marrying Canaanite women (Genesis 26), and nurses a 20-year murderous grudge against his conniving younger brother.

Why is the Bible loud on sinfully dysfunctional families and quiet on harmonious families? Well, for one thing, most families aren’t harmonious. Humanity is not harmonious. We are alienated — alienated from God and each other. So, put alienated, selfish sinners together in a home, sharing possessions and the most intimate aspects of life, having different personalities and interests, and a disparate distribution of power, abilities, and opportunities, and you have a recipe for a sin-mess. 

But there’s a deeper purpose at work in this mess. The Bible’s main theme is God’s gracious plan to redeem needy sinners. It teaches us that what God wants most for us is that we 1) become aware of our sinfulness and 2) our powerlessness to save ourselves, as we 3) believe and love His Son and the gospel He preached, and 4) graciously love one another. And it turns out that the family is an ideal place for all of these to occur!

But what we often fail to remember is that the mess is usually required for these things to occur. Sin must be seen and powerlessness must be experienced before we really turn to Jesus and embrace His gospel. And offenses must be committed if gracious love is to be demonstrated. So if we’re praying for our family members to experience these things, we should expect trouble. In God’s plan, messes become mercies. The family is a crucible of grace. – from Jon Bloom, Not By Sight.

God is not after perfect people or perfect families but redeemed ones to the praise of His glory!

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, read Genesis 25 (especially verses 19-34).

1. What parallels can you find between the family situations of Abraham/Sarah and Isaac/Rebekah? Why would God work in this way?

2. Do you remember the way Abraham responded to Sarah’s barrenness? How does that differ from the way Isaac responds (vs. 21)?

3. In verse 22, the word for the turmoil within Rebekah’s womb is “smashed”—the babies “smashed together” inside her. What physically must this have felt like? Why are we told that here? How does it add to the story?

4. The Lord speaks to Rebekah to explain her troubled womb and to look forward to the future. What do you think Rebekah did with this information?

5. Esau is named for what he looks like, Jacob for what he does. What difference might that make?

6. In verses 29-34, what are the emotions of the two men? Imagine the situation: what is going on here?

7. What is the birthright—from a cultural standpoint and from a redemptive standpoint? What did the world think was Esau’s by birth?

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

"Tying the Knot" - Henry Knapp

Saying, “I Do” 

One of the great joys of the pastorate is being invited to participate in weddings. Of course, like all pastors, I have my share of “wedding stories” —crazy family dynamics, brides in melt-down, dopey groomsmen, music mishaps, wardrobe malfunctions. I even had one person in the bridal party pass out during the vows—very distracting. 

But, even so, weddings are terrific! Not simply the bountiful smiles, the general atmosphere of happiness, and the good food, I am very excited about the spiritual witness of the coming marriage. One of the primary analogies used in the Scriptures is to model our relationship with God as a marital union. What a marriage looks like between husband and wife is supposed to reflect the way that God loves us. The church is the bride of Christ. Turning from God is described as betraying marital vows—idolatry is adultery. 

Given the importance of this analogy—that our marriages are supposed to look like our “marriage” to God—what marriages we see in the Bible should draw close attention, including the one detailed for us in Genesis 24. 

Our culture has changed. The dating rituals and the process by which people fall in love and marry in contemporary society are far different than other eras. For sure, if the events described in Genesis 24 occurred in 21st Century America, we would deem it odd indeed. Isaac is a 40-year-old man, yet his ancient father, Abraham, arranges for a marriage, and even that appears to happen in a very random way. If parents suggested such a program to me for how they would get their child married, I would have absolutely no hesitation in seriously questioning their thinking. 

So what can we possibly learn from such a story? Why is it included in the Bible? Is this a guide for Christians on how to find a spouse? And, what about those who are already married? Or, are not going to be married? Or, were married? What if this whole topic is not “on your radar?” Why has God given us this text as part of His Word? 

Perhaps (as with the entirety of the Bible!), the message is not so much about me and us, as about God and His redemption. Perhaps this story is not a guide to our marriages so much as it is a guide to help explain God’s relationship with us. Perhaps the pursuit of the relationship, displayed in such a dramatic, if unfamiliar, manner is about God’s pursuit of us. And, suddenly, this text takes on new meaning. 

As we prepare for worship this week, read Genesis 24. 

1. Why is Abraham’s servant told to “put his hand under Abraham’s thigh?” It is clearly part of the swearing ritual (like shaking hands or swearing in blood). But, why do you think that is part of the ritual? 

2. Why is it so important for Isaac not to take a wife from the Canaanites, but rather Abraham sends his servant all the way back to his people before he originally was called by God? 

3. Why is it stressed that Isaac should not return to that land, but it was ok for the servant to go? 

4. The servant puts out a “test” to find the right woman—whoever says certain words and acts in particular ways. Are these the kind of “tests” we should use to discern God’s will? 

5. The servant’s dealings with Rebekah’s family certainly show respect, and most likely reflect the culture of the day, but may it mean more? 

6. In verses 50-51, it sure appears that Rebekah’s family knows and listens to the Lord. Is there any other way to read this? Does this mean that there were believers far from Abraham’s family? 

7. What does the initial interaction between Isaac and Rebekah tell us about their character? What is being communicated about God’s desires for us?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

"The Perfect Prelude" - Henry Knapp

The Binding of Isaac 

An embarrassment of riches. I don’t remember where I first heard the term; but it works so, so very well! Sometimes, there are so many good things, so many just right things, that it can almost be “embarrassing.” So many really quality wide receivers. A plethora of choices at the store. A ton of good ideas for that job. Personally, the phrase works for a multitude of things in my life—my family, my church, my co-workers, and more. In thinking through this week’s text for the sermon, I was again overcome by “an embarrassment of riches,” for this passage of the Bible is so, so very rich. 

Every time we come to the Bible, we see God’s redemptive history—we have a piece of the plan to save the world from sin. But, there is almost always an important ethical or application to our daily lives and, biblical-theological reflection into our God and His ways. And, it is all built upon a rigorous interpretation of the Scripture as a whole. But when we come to “The Binding of Isaac,” we have so much here to explore! 

Chapter 22 of Genesis is in every respect a pivotal chapter in not only the book, but in the entirety of redemptive history. This has been recognized throughout Christian history, and also in Jewish and Islamic faith. All three world religions look at the events of Genesis 22 as fundamental to their respective faiths (note: in Islam, Isaac’s role is replaced by Ismael). Not only is the storyline itself full of drama and excitement, but it so very rich in theology, in exegesis, and in faith application. 

Consider: Exegesis

How do we interpret this story? On one level, of course, this is just a record of what took place—God tested Abraham, and the chapter details Abraham’s response. But, in the context of Genesis as a whole, where God is beginning to work out His plan of salvation, to bring a Savior to the world, a descendant of Abraham himself, what would it mean for Isaac to be sacrificed? The New Testament clearly answers this question (see Hebrews 11). 

Consider: Theology

Everyone is taken by the conclusion of the story, that instead of Isaac, God provides a substitute offering. What could prefigure the work of Christ more? About two thousand years later, God will follow the same pattern, offering His own Son in our stead. What a great picture!

Consider: Daily Christian Application

Abraham is near-universally lifted up as a role model for faith. Confronted with circumstances beyond belief, Abraham nevertheless has faith in the Lord. How does Abraham’s actions and response to God’s command here serve as a model for our own daily journey with the Lord? 

Each of these, and others I could list, could form the basis of a great study of Genesis 22—in terms of how we might grow in light of this passage, we have an embarrassment of riches! As we will not be able to touch on all of these issues on Sunday morning, I encourage you to spend time before and after the worship service, exploring this text: God’s Word is riches beyond belief! 

For Sunday this week, read Genesis 22. 

1. In verse 1, God “tests” Abraham. That is not normally how we think of God interacting with us. Does God still “test” His people? How do we know when He is testing us?

2. Abraham responds to God’s call with, “Here I am.” Now, that probably is just a way of saying, “yes?” But, what else can we say of such a response?

3. Speculate on why God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. What might God be doing here? Note He wants Isaac to be offered as a burnt offering. What might the “burnt offering” part be all about?

4. Verse 3 tells us that Abraham arose early in the morning to do God’s bidding. Why might he have started early in the morning, and what might that say about our own experience?

5. When Abraham tells Isaac in verse 8 that “God will provide a lamb,” does this represent Abraham’s faith? Why else might he have said that to Isaac?

6. Why does the angel prevent Abraham from following through? Does this mean that Abraham was being duped by God?

7. Abraham names the place: “God will provide,” which obviously looks forward to Christ. How can we apply that attitude to the events in our daily lives?

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

"Growing God's Way" - Doug Rehberg

Lloyd George, the British statesman and prime minister (from 1916 to 1922) had much to contend with during his ministry. There was World War I, the economic crisis, and the Sinn Fein movement for Irish liberation, among other difficulties. Asked how he retained his good spirits, he replied, “Well, I find that a change of nuisances is as good as a vacation.”

Yet, not everyone is so sanguine about change, particularly in the sphere of biblical studies and theology. There is this notion among a wide cross-section of evangelical and reformed Christians today that there is a corpus of understanding that has been once and for all delivered to the church. It is sacrosanct, inviolable, and fully known. And yet, the testimony of the Scripture and the Christian life is that such a conviction is folly.

Spurgeon once said, “The proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom He calls Father. It is a study that has a beginning, but no ending.”

A few weeks ago I buried a dear friend who, until his dying day, remained faithful, available, and teachable. And it’s the teachable part that never ceased to amaze me. He never stopped learning, especially when it came to the character of God and the truth of the Gospel. As an 82-year-old engineer, he continued to preach (as a lay preacher). For more than 40 years he taught large adult Bible studies in several churches. By his own testimony he had learned so much about God’s grace in the final five years of his life that he wished he could go back and redo much of his teaching.

But what really astounded me was that in the final months of his life he began to deeply lament how much of his earlier understanding of God and the good news of the Gospel he had gotten wrong. Through tears he said, “I can’t believe all the things I taught that I thought were true, but weren’t. I feel like I’ve led people astray.” I replied, “There’s no way you led them astray. You always lifted up Jesus and pointed to Him. Besides you just proved the point. Anyone who seeks to teach the things of the Lord who’s not growing and willing to grow is most of the time just teaching their word, rather than God’s Word. You repeatedly ask the Lord to increase your understanding of Him and He answered your prayer!”

Robert Capon once wrote:

Whenever someone attempts to introduce a radically different insight to people whose minds have been formed by an old and well-worked-out way of thinking, he or she is up against an obstacle. Jesus said, their taste for the old wine is so well established that they invariably prefer it to the new.

More than that, the new wine, still fermenting, seems to them so obviously and dangerously full of power that they will not ever consider putting it into their old and fragile wineskins.

But now try to see the point of the biblical imagery of wine-making a little more abstractly. The new insight is always at odds with the old way of looking at things. Even if the teacher’s audience were to try earnestly to take it in, the only intellectual devices they would have to pick it up with are the categories of the old system with which it conflicts. Hence the problem: if he leaves in his teaching a single significant scrap of the old system, they, by their own effort to understand, will go to that scrap rather than to the point he is making and, having done that, will understand the new only insofar as it can be made to agree with the old—which is, not at all.

In recent months I have been confronted over and over again by the truth of Capon’s words. The resistance to new, well-grounded biblical and spiritual insights has never seemed greater within the body of Christ. Faithfulness? Yes. Availability? Yes. Teachability? Sadly no. There’s a dearth of it in so many quarters.

That’s why Sunday’s message, “Growing God’s Way,” seems appropriate. Here in Genesis 21 and the story of Isaac’s birth and early matriculation is a primer on the way Christ calls us all to grow. Like so many biblical texts, I’ve preached Genesis 21 before, but never like this.

In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

Who is Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ writings?

The ancient rabbis spoke of four levels of meaning found in the Scriptures: the literal, the suggestive, the investigative, and the allegorical. What are the differences?

Did Jesus use each of them?

What do we see about Isaac’s birth from verse 1?

Why does Sarah say what she says in verse 6?

How is Isaac’s birth like every Christian’s rebirth? (See John 1:12, 13)

How important is the context of Sarah’s command in verse 10?

How does Paul’s teaching in Galatians 4 instruct us as to God’s purpose in verse 12?

What do you make of God’s promise in verse 18?

What does verse 20 tell us about the grace of God?

See you Sunday!