Tuesday, July 27, 2021

"No One Like Him" - Doug Rehberg

One of the great seminary professors and theologians of the last century was John Gerstner of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He is the one to whom Dr. R.C. Sproul would often point when asked, “Who most influenced you and your life of ministry?”

Years ago I remember R.C. telling of one of his first classes with Dr. Gerstner when the professor was laying down some ground rules for the papers they’d write. He said, “If any one of you uses the illustration of the pastor and the gardener to speak of the relationship between God and man I will fail you for the course!” Do you remember that story? Here it is:

A newly appointed pastor went to visit the home of a congregational member. Upon his arrival the minister discovered that his host was an avid gardener who was only too delighted to show his pastor around the garden. It was a magnificent sea of greens, purples, blues, whites, yellows, and pinks.

Wanting to set the relationship on a strong, positive note, the pastor said, “Praise God for the beauty of His handiwork!” His host was startled and somewhat offended. He remonstrated, “Now pastor, don’t go giving all the credit to God. You should have seen this garden when the Almighty had it by Himself!”

Dr. Gerstner would flunk anyone attempting to use that story to illustrate the relationship between God and humanity. But, this week I read another person’s take on it. The person wrote, “The gardener, in fact, did have very good theology. God has designed the world in such a way that God works in partnership with us to achieve God’s ends.” To which the writer of Genesis would say, “Say what?” Are you joking! Every breath we take is a function of divine grace. And nowhere is that more clearly seen than in the story of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob.

Here in the middle of the final section of Genesis—the story of Joseph (chapters 37 to 50)—the writer of Genesis inserts the story of Joseph’s brother, Judah. It’s from the tribe of Judah that the Messiah will come. It’s from Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, that Jesus will descend. It’s from his line that the perfect, eternal Son of God will be incarnated. And yet, when you read about who Judah is and what he does it’s stunning to imagine anyone of any consequence descending from such a self-centered, corrupt jerk. There’s nothing in Judah and his character to commend him to us. He is as corrupt as his father, perhaps worse! In fact, the only thing Judah does in chapters 37 and 38 that is commendable is to talk his brothers out of killing Joseph. In all of the nobility he can muster, he convincingly suggests to them that they sell their brother to the traveling band of Ishmaelites that are heading from Gilead to Egypt. What a gracious act! To sell his own brother rather than to put him to death. If Joseph is a portrait of Jesus, Judah is a picture of Judas.

Unlike the foreign god of the gardener who depends on the cooperation and hard work of men, our God, the God of Judah, needs no help. In fact, He takes our myriad corruptions and turns them into a verdant field of divine majesty. As we dig into chapter 38 we will see just how wise Dr. John Gerstner was. Like the Law Giver in Exodus 20, who adds verses to 22 to 26 as a corrective for any who think that they can keep His law, chapter 38 is a clear clarion call to every Christian that in Him we live, and move, and have our being.

In preparation for a message entitled, “No One Like Him,” you may wish to consider the following:

1. What best proves God’s greatness to you?

2. What’s Paul’s argument about God in I Corinthians 1:18-31?

3. How would you describe the comfort Judah, his brothers, and sisters provided to their father, Jacob, in Genesis 37:35?

4. Why does Judah choose to leave his brothers and consult with Hiram?

(verse 1)

5. How different is Judah’s approach to marriage than his father and grandfather?

6. Who are Shua and Tamar?

7. Why do the first two sons of Judah & Shua die?

8. Why does Judah lie to his daughter-in-law, Tamar?

9. How is Tamar more righteous than Judah? (verse 26)

10. What does all this tell you about God’s glory and grace?

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

"Good Grief" - Henry Knapp

A Question of Motive 

I can’t tell you how often I have assumed the reasons why someone has done something or another, and I have been totally wrong. As a young child, I often thought another kid was acting kindly to me only to discover a totally different, much more nefarious reason was behind the supposed “kindness.” And, more often than I would like to admit, I have frequently assumed evil or negative motives when in fact someone was acting only positively. Of course, we all know the errors of making assumptions—we are just asking to get it wrong, and sometimes with disastrous results. 

How we understand the actions of a minor character in a sideline affair in our drama this week all boils down to motive. If we assume the best, you can find yourself almost sympathetic to Reuben; on the other hand, nothing but pure selfishness might be driving him. While assessing Reuben’s reasoning is not essential to the overall storyline we’ll be looking at, his part in the story can teach us about reading the Bible and the importance of how we approach the Scripture to begin with. 

Reuben is Jacob’s oldest son. He would be the natural leader—the one expected to guide his brothers and the one to act most faithfully in his father’s absence. Indeed, by all standards of the day, Reuben should have been the son to whom the mantel of “family patriarch” would fall. But, like his brothers, it is clear that Reuben’s resentment over his father’s favoritism toward Joseph, his much younger brother, led to the terrible events recorded in Genesis 37. But, was there more to Reuben’s feelings and/or actions toward Joseph? 

When the brothers first conspire to murder Joseph, it is Reuben who backs them down. Scripture describes Reuben’s actions as “rescuing” Joseph—it certainly seems like Reuben is on the positive track here. But later we are told that Reuben did so, “so that he might restore Joseph to his father.” And, here’s where the question of motive comes in: Did Reuben save Joseph and seek to restore him to Jacob because Reuben knew it was the right thing to do? Was he acting out of the goodness of his heart? Or… or, was this nothing more than a self-serving act on his part? Think of it, here Reuben is, cast aside from his role in the family by “daddy’s favorite;” and, suddenly, Reuben has the chance to be the hero! He has a chance to save Jacob’s pet son; perhaps to prove to Jacob that he, Reuben, is the true leader that even his father denies. 

Was Reuben acting to save his brother for Joseph’s sake? Or, for his own? 

Of course, what we assume about Reuben here totally changes the way we read this portion of the narrative. This is made more difficult for us precisely because the biblical author does not tell us the reasoning for Reuben’s actions—is he an unsuccessful hero? Or, a self-serving failure? 

We come to the Scripture to hear God’s Word—to listen to, to understand, and then to faithfully follow what He desires for us. It is always, always a temptation to want the Bible to say what I already believe—I want God to support what I think! It is so very easy to assume what I want the Bible to show. This temptation must be resisted always and forever. We come to learn from our Lord, not to justify our own thinking. Reuben’s story is an easy way to demonstrate the dangers of making assumptions in our interpretation of Scripture. We need to hear from the Lord and come to the Bible with our hearts open to Him. 

As you come to worship this week, read Genesis 37:12-36. 

1. Why do you think the author recounts the wanderings of Joseph as he tries to find his brothers? Why might this be important to the story? 

2. Refresh your memories again (or read the opening verses of chapter 37) to see why the brothers would want to kill Joseph. How does his sarcastic title, “the dreamer,” play into this? 

3. Speculate on the reasons why Reuben acted as he does in this story. Read, especially, verses 21-22 and 29-30. 

4. The first part of verse 25 is stunning. How does this describe the descent into sin in our hearts? 

5. How best should we understand Jacob’s response to the news of Joseph’s “death” in verse 36? 

6. Given Jacob’s reaction, do you think the brothers are satisfied with their plan? Did things work out as they would have hoped? 

7. Joseph’s robe marked him as Jacob’s favorite—why do you think the brothers specifically used the robe to “prove” Joseph’s fate to his father?

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

"Where Do You Fit?" - Henry Knapp

Some Serious Family Dysfunction 

I have not studied much psychology and am not a family counselor, but you don’t need to have much formal training to see the sibling dysfunction written all over the pages of Genesis—especially when we come to Jacob’s household. Now, that family was a mess! Favoritism, betrayal, hatred, jealousy, spite… Jacob’s family had it all. 

Now, as so often in the book of Genesis, this is a blessing for us who live in the midst of the mess that is real, every day, down-to-earth life. The author of Genesis does not shy away from laying clearly before us the brokenness of the “star players” in the drama. The sinfulness, the selfishness, and the idolatry of the main characters throughout this story jump off the page: Abraham’s failures with his wife, Jacob’s betrayal of his brother, the rage and deceit of Jacob’s sons, the petty jealousy of his wives. As we read these stories, the actions of these men and women often confuse, frustrate, or annoy us—can’t we find a better story than this? 

But for the honest readers among us, the ups and downs of the Genesis characters are often convicting, challenging, and comforting all at once. Why? Because it is all too easy to see ourselves in these stories. 

The dysfunction that shows up so blatantly in Jacob’s family is not so dissimilar to the dysfunction in our own lives. One thing we learn as we grow up is that everyone’s family is flawed to some extent. The ideal, perfectly functional family simply doesn’t exist—outside the church OR inside it. Some families exhibit their defects more readily than others. For some, the decay is often hidden away. But, across the board we know that all families are broken, since all families are comprised of wounded, sinful people. 

That Jacob’s domestic life was chaotic is easy to imagine. He couldn’t seem to keep himself from showing favoritism to one of his youngest sons, Joseph—and when you have a four wives and twelve children, showing flagrant preference to one is a sure way to stir up trouble. And Joseph couldn’t seem to keep himself from flaunting his status. His brothers, understandably annoyed, resort to harsh words, hatred and, eventually, to thoughts of murder. 

And this pandemonium is not hard to predict. Indeed, Jacob’s family reflects a pattern known as generational chaos or, in theological terms, generational sin. Our bad habits, our sinfulness, are often learned from our parents. Victims of abuse sometimes grow up to be abusers themselves; aberrant patterns are often passed down from one generation to another. And we see this clearly in Genesis—Jacob’s mother favored him; his father, Isaac, clearly preferred Jacob’s brother, Esau. Jacob himself couldn’t keep his preference for Rachel over his other wives from adding to the chaos of his household. 

How, in the midst of this family chaos, are we to hear these stories of Jacob’s children? Is it enough to feel comfort in the fact that others have dysfunction in their lives as well? Are we to glean simply that “everyone has troubles” and that’s all? My guess is that God has more in mind as we come to chapter 37 of Genesis. Certainly we will see the family troubles—it is the background for all that takes place. But, as always, what God has in store for us is to see more and more clearly the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, that is why we have Genesis 37: because our salvation is described there. So, yes, we will see the distortion sin brings about in Jacob’s family. But, yes, yes, we will see salvation there as well! 

As you prepare for worship this week, read Genesis 37:1-11. 

1. It almost looks like verse 1 is filler—not really communicating anything important. But given Jacob’s character and past, what might be implied here with these words, that he is living in the land of his father? 

2. Why did Jacob love Joseph so much? What might account for it in human terms? 

3. What is significant about the robe of many colors? Why would this signify Jacob’s special love for his son? What would be a parallel idea today? 

4. What is the point of the dream(s) Joseph had? What is being communicated here? Why is that important? 

5. How should we understand the reaction of his brothers to Joseph and his dreams? Is this a good thing or not? 

6. In what tone does Jacob speak to Joseph in verse 10? What is Jacob’s attitude and thought? How does that reveal his own understanding? 

7. Verse 11 sets up a clear contrast between the way the brothers respond to Joseph and Jacob’s “keeping this in mind.” What do you think is intended here?

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

"A Remarkable Resemblance" - Doug Rehberg

An Irish daughter had not been home for over five years. Upon her return, her father cursed her saying, “Where have ye been all this time? Why did ye not write to us at all? Why didn’t ye call? Can ye not understand what ye put yer old mum thru?” The girl, crying, replied, “Dad…I became a prostitute.” “Ye what!!? Get out, ye shameless harlot! Sinner! You’re a disgrace!” “Ok, Dad...as you wish. I just came back to give Mum this luxurious fur coat, title deed to a 10 bedroom mansion plus a saving certificate for $5 million. For me brother, this gold Rolex, and for ye Daddy, this brand-new Mercedes convertible that’s parked outside, a country club membership, an invitation to spend New Year’s Eve on my new yacht in the Riviera…” “Now what was it ye said ye had become?” The girl, crying again says, “A prostitute!” “Oh! Ye scared me to death, girl! I thought ye said a Protestant!”

One of the problems with preaching through a book as long as Genesis is not having time to get to every verse and every vignette. And nowhere is that truer than in the life and times of Jacob. We finished last week’s text in Genesis 33:11. This week we’ll start anew in Genesis 35:1. What you have in between is a story more toe curling than the one about that Irish man and his daughter. Jacob again lies. This time it’s to his brother, the one in whom he said he had seen the face of God! It’s after giving him a gift of gratitude for his gracious greeting in verse 4. He tells him that he will meet up with him in Seir (south of the Dead Sea). He has no intention of meeting up with him. He intends to go due west to Shechem and build a home there. And the consequences are disastrous! It makes the story of the Irish girl tame. Has God led Jacob to Shechem? No. Has He told him to build an alter there? No. Has He instructed Jacob to engage with the people of Shechem? No. Did He prompt him to stay in silence in the face of his daughter’s rape? No. Did He call him to sanction the marriage of Dinah and Hamor’s son Shechem? No. Nothing happens from the exit of Esau to his relocation in Bethel that’s sanctioned by God or pleasing to Him. In fact, it is a graphic, universal portrait of our base, sinful nature.

Against the backdrop of lies, self-reliance, sexual violence, horrific vengeance, widespread bloodshed, and shame, the Lord again comes to Jacob and displays His incalculable grace. He says to him, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there.” Now the location of Bethel is actually due south of Shechem but nowhere near Seir. Its elevation is higher, thus the “go up.” It’s an amazing command that reveals so much about God and us, especially when we mess up royally!

I’m so thankful for Jacob. While he’s as messed up as you and me, our God never changes. His mercies are new every morning. In fact, what we have here in chapter 35 is a picture of how He intends for us to repent and be restored. It’s a calling He gives to Jacob and shows us in Jesus. We’ll look at all of this on Sunday, in a message entitled, “A Remarkable Resemblance,” Genesis 35:1-15. In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:

1. Why do you think Jacob lied to Esau right after he saw the face of God in him?

2. Why do you think Jacob sought to settle in Shechem?

3. What appeal is there to harbor little statues of foreign gods? (see Genesis 31:30 & 35:2)

4. What’s the purpose of building an altar?

5. What’s the significance of building an altar at Bethel?

6. What do you think of Jacob’s perspective as expressed in verse 3? Is he right?

7. What does verse 5 mean?

8. What’s the significance of Jacob naming the place where he built the altar?

9. Why does God rename him Israel again in verse 10?

10. What does El Shaddai mean or what kings will come from Jacob/Israel?

See you Sunday!