Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Genesis 39 Joseph - Kept by God against many Odds

 


Joseph is the leading character of this last section of Genesis.   Last time we looked at  Genesis 38, which  was a  short digression and  an uncomfortable reflection on the  life of the 4th born brother, Judah.   We are now back with Joseph, our leading  character.

OUTLINE

1.      39:1-6  Though a slave  now, God was with Joseph him  and gave him favour.

2.      39:7-19 Joseph’s temptation  and trial

3.      39:20-23  Joseph in prison: God’s favour and providence   yet again

                         

1.                  39:1-6  Though a slave  now, God was with Joseph him  and gave him favour.

In Chapter 37 we saw that Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery. They had actually planned to kill him, but he was rescued by  brothers Reuben (37:21)  and Judah (37:26,27)  and instead they  sold Joseph into slavery. We shall later learn that  this was all due to the hand of God. The brothers meant this for evil, but God was in the detail, and He overruled for their good (see Genesis 45:5).  Sold into slavery  Joseph  then was bought by Potiphar[1] an Egyptian officer (39:1). 

What is evident in this entire passage  is that God was with  Joseph   in this situation – see  39:2,3,5,21,23  Please note: God did not deliver  Joseph from slavery, but He proved Himself to be his God in this unpleasant ordeal of being a slave. Here is a truth that we do not  easily  appreciate, accept or understand.  We know that slavery is a moral evil, but the Bible does not  deal with the moral issue  of slavery. It focuses on the sufficient grace of God who is with His people  in  the midst of their ordeal. In the most unfavourable  circumstance, God  shows favour  and  gives  success. We see this too in the account of  Daniel and his three friends. They were essentially slaves of the Babylonians, but in the midst of this ordeal they found favour with God and men.

An interesting  commentary  on the plight of Joseph is found in  Psalm 105:16-22: 17… he had sent a man ahead of them,  Joseph, who was sold as a slave.18 His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; 19 until what he had said came to pass,  the word of the Lord tested him.20 The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free; 21 he made him lord of his house   and ruler of all his possessions,22 to bind his princes at his pleasure  and to teach his elders wisdom.

Did Joseph suffer?  Yes. 

Did he experience pain? Yes. His feet were hurt… his neck was put in a collar of iron….  

But is the focus on pain and slavery? No! The emphasis is on the word of the Lord and His testing of Joseph.  The emphasis throughout is on the fact that the Lord was with him in this experience.  We have seen that at  least five  times  in Joseph's  unhappy experience here. The  God of his fathers, the God who is faithful to His covenant promises  is with him, just as God was with the three friends of  Daniel in the  heat of the furnace.  He was the 4th man present  in the fire (Daniel 3:8-30). 

In the same way He was with Daniel in the den of very hungry lions (Daniel 6). 

He was with his people in their desert wanderings (Exodus). 

He was with Jonah in the belly of a whale.  

He was  with Paul and Silas in their Philippian  prison experience (Acts 16:16-40). 

He was with Paul in his many shipwrecks, beating and stonings (2 Corinthians 11:23-12:10). 

But He was not  so with Jesus as He hung on the cross. There He was forsaken for our sake. God allowed Him to suffer my sin and your sin, unaided by divine grace. He bore the full wrath of God. 

Back to Joseph.  God keeps His people in the midst of  their strong trials and testing.  Now there is  something worth thinking about in this. We have already seen that Potiphar’s name means 'he whom Ra (the Egyptian sun god)  has given'. Joseph was not given into the hands of him whom Ra has given. Joseph was not at the mercy of the sun god of the Egyptians. He was in the hands of the one true God! And it was this God that was with him. It was He that caused Joseph to succeed. It was because of Joseph’s God that the Egyptian Potiphar  was blessed and prospered, and therefore he trusted  Joseph exceedingly.

39:7-19 Joseph’s temptation and trial

Just when we think, “well there is Joseph’s lucky break”,  there appears another strong trial for Joseph. This section begins with these words, “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time the master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph…” (39:6,7). It is at this point that Joseph distinguishes himself from  his brothers Reuben (see Gen. 35:22)  and Judah (Genesis 38). Both men   proved to be men of loose sexual morals – men who did not fear God.

Joseph’s response to Mrs Potiphar’s advances is found in 39:8,9. Firstly, in 39:8 he tells her, “I can’t do this. Your husband trusts me.  He has given freedom in his house”, and by implication he is saying to her, “I don’t want to disappoint my master by abusing that one thing which is forbidden – to touch you, his wife” (39:9). He says, “how then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?“ Joseph knows that this is sexual immorality. He knows, that by doing this,  he would primarily sin against God. Later in the law given through Moses this  would be made  more explicit:  You shall not commit adultery” (Ex.20:14) and  you shall not covet  your neighbour’s  wife” (Ex. 20:17). This law was already written on the tablets of Joseph’s heart before Moses, under God  gave this law to the Israelites. When David sinned with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), his confession ultimately steers in this direction, when he confesses to  the Lord, “Against you, you only, have I sinned  and done what is evil in your sight”  (Psalm 51:4).

Let this sink  into our thick skulls: All sin is primarily  an act of defiance against God !  We see here very clearly that, that which motivates Joseph, is the fear of the Lord.

In 39:10  we learn that this  became a daily battle for Joseph, and he has our admiration, as day after day he resists  this temptation. But, the  moment  comes  in 39:11 when she  corners him  alone, and  Joseph did what he had to do in such a situation. He fled!  This  is what  the apostle  Paul  speaks about  in  2 Timothy 2:22  when he tells Timothy to flee youthful passions.

Obeying God  here  carries a heavy  cost  for Joseph.  There is a saying, “hell has no fury like a woman scorned”. This is a shortening of William Congreve's[2] famous saying  in his work,  “The Mourning Bride” (1697), "Heav'n has no rage, like love to hatred turn'd, nor Hell a fury like a woman scorn'd".

The truth about such  passionate desires as this woman had for Joseph  is that  they   very quickly turn to hate  when scorned. We have seen this before in the case of the rape of Tamar by Amnon in  2 Samuel 13. Following  his  rape of her  we read, “then Amnon  hated her with very great hatred…”. And  so it is that  she  turns on  Joseph with a viciousness  that leaves him utterly vulnerable. There are no witnesses, and she has the proof of the shirt  that she ripped off his body when he fled.  Things could not be worse for poor Joseph.  But, thankfully,  there is One that has seen. And  so Joseph  landed in prison. nd God was there  with him.

3.         39:20-23  Joseph’s prison experience:  God’s favour  yet again

We have noted the  doctrine of  God’s providence  in Joseph’s turbulent  life.  From being his father's favourite, he became a  hated brother, and then a  slave, to successful servant,  and now  an  accused as a sex offender  and now  a prisoner. But once again, in 39: 21  we are assured  that  the LORD (Covenant Name)  who sees  the truth was with him.  He is with him in that he does not receive the death sentence, customary for servants /slaves in his position. And of course, God has him in that prison for a reason. It will be a while before that reason will become apparent.  That is always a very difficult dilemma. What is God doing? Well, with what we have learned already, we know  that  God is doing a work in Joseph. So, although he  was in the Refiners  fire ( like Daniel’s 3 friends), he was not going to be destroyed there. Quite on the contrary!  God was going to bless him there (see  39:21,23). What unusual providence!  

This reminds me of that great hymn by William Cowper (1731-1800).. . particularly verse 5

1.      God moves in a mysterious way  His wonders to perform: He plants His footsteps in the sea,  And rides upon the storm.

2.       Deep in unfathomable mines  Of never-failing skill,He treasures up His bright designs,  And works His sovereign will.

3.      Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;  The clouds ye so much dread; are big with mercy, and shall break  In blessings on your head.

4.      Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,  but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence  He hides a smiling face.

5.      His purposes will ripen fast,  Unfolding every hour: The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. 

6.       Blind unbelief is sure to err,   And scan His work in vain;God is His own Interpreter,   And He will make it plain.

Now, dear friend I do  not  know  about  your trials and temptations. But  from biblical teaching and personal experience I know, that God  works out all things  for the good of those  that love Him and are called to his purpose (Rom. 8:28ff).  In and through our trials He blesses  us  and  He moulds our character into greater  Christlikeness. Every believer needs to recognize that in God's providence, God has a purpose for His people – even  the  dark mysterious  providences.  I remind you again of Cowper's words :

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,  But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence  He hides a smiling face."

The way you respond in the context of God's dark providences is an opportunity for you to bring glory to God. Every time you face a crisis,  and whenyou bear up under it  and demonstrate real  faith in God, you are a great encouragement to the rest of us. 

The unfolding story makes it  clear that  God’s unseen hand brought Joseph  to Egypt  for the task of preserving His people. All this was for the good. But we will have to leave that  thought for the chapters to come.

May God enable you to believe that  all that happens to you is a part of His goodness.



[1] Lit. 'he whom Ra has given'

[2] William Congreve (24 January 1670 – 19 January 1729) was an English playwright and poet of the Restoration period. He is known for his clever, satirical dialogue and influence on the comedy of manners style of that period ( ource : Wikipedia)

Monday, June 7, 2021

Genesis 38 "Judah's Destructive Love for Canaanite Women and Culture - and the Grace of God"

   From Genesis 37 until  50 the book deals and concludes with the story of Joseph. The story of Joseph tells us how Jacob- Israel ended up in Egypt. Ultimately this was in fulfilment of God's word to  Abraham in Genesis 15:13ff where God said to Abraham:  “know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for 400 years.”  The story of Joseph also tells us how the promises of God in Genesis 12:1ff would be fulfilled. There God had promised Abram that he would become a great nation. In the days of Joseph Israel had indeed become a big nation.

Although Joseph occupies the centre stage in the closing chapters, there will be a brief digression in Chapter 38. Here we will consider what Judah, the 4th born son of Jacob, and brother of the 11th born Joseph was up to. This chapter does not make nice reading, and if it were up to me I might have been tempted to circumvent it. But we cannot do that. This too is God’s Word, and it forms part of the whole, and God will bless this reading and meditation to our heart.

This chapter is very important in determining the succession of the line of Judah, and we shall see in conclusion that the  line of Judah eventually is going to pass through Perez instead of Zerah. Perez will be one of the forefathers  of  our Lord  Jesus. And that is going to be important for God's redemptive plan in the long run.

OUTLINE

(i)                 38:1-11: Judah’s Canaanite wife and the crisis arising in the line of Judah.

(ii)               38:12-26: Tamar’s plan to get her rights as wife and widow of Judah’s firstborn.   

(iii)             38:27-30: Tamar gives birth to twins – and again we see the second son taking  primacy  in the line of Judah.

(i)         38:1-11: Judah’s Canaanite wife and the crisis arising in the line of Judah.

The chapter begins with these words, “it happened at that time…”, with reference to chapter 37, when Joseph, hated by his brothers   was sold to an  Egyptian.  At that time  his older brother Judah “went down  from his brothers and turned aside to a certain  Adullamite”. He went from his father’s home in Hebron (37:14) which is one of the highest points in southern  Canaan down to  the  foothills northwest of Hebron (37:14) to Adulam[1]. He went down in more ways than one.  He left his covenant community and fraternised with a Canaanite family. He fell in love with a Canaanite girl- the daughter of Shua (38:2). This story is somewhat similar to the story of Esau (26:34,35) who deliberately went to look for a  wife  from among the Hittites, much to his parents  dismay. The same thing also happens to Samson, who deliberately goes after a Canaanite wife (Judges 14:1-3), and incidentally from the same place – Timnah.

We read that  this woman (only known as the daughter of Shua) bears Judah three sons. Er (v.3), Onan (v.4), and Shelah (v.5). The story moves very quickly. In v.6 Er, the oldest son grows up and his father finds him a wife called Tamar (contrary to his own example). We are told that Er was wicked in the sight of God and God put him to death (v.7). This left Tamar as a widow and childless. Things could not be worse for a woman in her day. Judah then commands his second son Onan, to fulfil the duties of a husband to her in what is called a levirate marriage. The term comes from the Latin ‘levir’, which means brother-in-law. Such marriages are also found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and in Ruth 4.  The idea behind this was that if a man died leaving his wife without a son to propagate his family line, then his brother had a responsibility to enable her to bear a son who would propagate the deceased brother’s family line. Onan doesn't want to do this and we are told in 38:8-9 that God put him to death also. 

Having lost two sons now, Judah’s third son, Shelah who is still very young, becomes the next possible option. But Judah is afraid that he too would die, and so he suggests that Tamar should move back to her father's home to wait. When Shelah is ready,  arrangements for marriage will be made.  But it doesn’t look good for Tamar.

2.38: 12-26 Tamar’s  Plan

Tamar’s father in law, Judah now  becomes a widower (38:12). After his time of mourning he and his old Canaanite friend Hirah the Adullamite visit his sheepshearers at Timnah. Tamar who obviously lives in the region  receives no indication that  she will receive  Shelah as husband. It seems as if  Judah conveniently forgets  her, and because of this he will get himself  into  a greater mess.  

But what is going on in Tamar’s mind? Apart from being a widow, and having no prospects of a family line, she knows that the answer would lie in having a baby from this family.   Moreover , since she was the wife of Judah’s firstborn she had the right to be the mother of the heir to Judah’s line! With this in mind she made a plan. It is a horrible plan, and we shall have to read this at face value. The purpose of this account is not to make a moral judgement, but to report  as to what happened.  Having said that  we must  take note of the  difference of the sexual ethics of  a man like Judah and a woman like Tamar when compared with a man like Joseph,  our main character at the end of the book of Genesis. In fact, in   the next chapter (39), he refuses to fall for the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He flees, and we admire him for his fortitude.  We learn of the sexual ethics of Scripture  as we read  the Bible  in general.   

And so we read  that as Judah is on his way to Timnah during  sheep shearing time. All the time he is in the presence the Canaanites, a pagan people whose lives werethoroughly immoral. At the heart of their practises lay a fertility cult,  which was associated  with their  pagan temple cult.  In this  temple, (cult ESV)  prostitutes (38:21,22) were used  to   invoke the Canaanite  gods to cause one’s flocks and lands to be fruitful.  And so temple prostitutes were used in ritual fornication. The time of sheep shearing was such a time in which this kind of thing happened. Tamar takes advantage of that moment, knowing that Judah is on his way  to sheep-shearing season.

As Judah makes his way up to Timnah, he finds this temple prostitute along the road, not knowing that this was his daughter in law.  And so Judah does a wicked thing in Israel. He again engages in a sexual act with a foreign woman. It tells us something about where Judah’s heart was rooted. He certainly did not fear God. He had no thoughts of keeping the terms of the covenant which God had made with his fathers. Judah has thoroughly compromised himself.

We need to make this a vital lesson to the Christian church. The church lives in the world, and the danger for the church is that she is easily attracted to it and absorbed into the culture of the world. I am saying this at a time when the Christian church has had much favour in our African context. The church has been a powerful voice in Africa. But in the midst of this favour, the church has been too much at peace with our world. The church has fed upon and absorbed the prevailing values of our world system, and many Christian preachers and church members  have intermarried with this system, especially when it comes to the sexual values of  the world and our nation.  Here are a few reflections:

1.      The matter of marrying in the Lord  is  disregarded  by many   young Christians.

2.      The matter of living together or having a number of sexual partners outside of the context of Christian marriage is increasingly accepted in  the church.

3.      Marriage is no longer a sacred bond. It is entered into and dissolved at will.  We do not see marriage as God sees it. The church has given into this spirit and does not fight to preserve marriages.

4.      The free availability of pornography on the internet and in every other movie  causes  our people to become less vigilant   about the dangers of  sex outside the boundaries  of marriage.

5.      An area of sexual deviation not addressed here in our passage is the increasing acceptance in the church  of homosexual practise (Sodomy), as found in Genesis 19.

Judah did not look for a wife that shared a God centred perspective on marriage.  Judah had no scruples when it came to engaging a prostitute.  His heart and his mind had become blunted because the soil of his heart was not carefully cultivated by cultivating the presence of God and keeping the Word of God.

Where you spend your time and affections does matter. It makes you who you are. If you share a lot of time with those who do not share your faith, you are going to find yourself where Judah found himself.  And coming from where he came from, namely the tribes of Israel, God’s own people, a people blessed with the presence and knowledge of God, we see the hypocritical behaviour which He now reflects. Upon hearing that Tamar was three months pregnant (38:24-26), he was ready to have her killed and burned. But Tamar had the trump card: “As she was being brought out, she sent out word to her father in law, ‘By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant’.” (38:25). Judah had to confess that she was more righteous than he (38:26). In fact, Tamar was in one sense more concerned to preserve the covenant line than Judah.  From his example and from David’s example with Bathsheba we are reminded that we can be very self- righteous, and in condemning other we often condemn ourselves. This is the   kind of judgement that Jesus refers to in Matthew 7:1, when he says, “Judge not, that you may not be judged.”

3. 38:27-30: Tamar gives birth to twins - and the  grace of God 

Tamar gave birth to twin sons.  A strange thing happens here. There is a struggle between Perez and Zerah, somewhat similar to the struggle that we have described in Genesis 25:22- 26 between the twins of Isaac and Rebekah- Jacob and Esau. As it stands, even though Zerah made first appearance – his hand showed, and then he drew it back (38:28), somehow Perez was born first. And so it is that Perez becomes the one to continue the line of Judah. 

In Matthew 1:3 (Luke 3:33) Tamar and Perez appear in the genealogy of our Lord Jesus. Perez who has Canaanite blood becomes a father to the Lord Jesus. Truly, God loves to turn that which is twisted and warped by us people to His own grand purposes.  

The entire Bible shows us that our human inclinations and character, unaided by the help and grace of God, lead us but one way – down, down, down.  Our human nature is intensely bent on hypocritical behaviour, even as believers, and that is why God must humble us, time and again. The closer we remain to God, the more we shall understand His holy nature and his abhorrence of sin, and the holier our inclinations will be. We can be more like Joseph than Judah

But at the end of the day, when we shall appear before Him, we shall confess: Not my righteousness  oh Lord, but yours. I am in heaven entirely on the merits of my Lord Jesus. Amen.  

 



[1] Cf.  1 Samuel 22:1. David hid in a  cave at Adullam

Monday, May 31, 2021

John 15:18-6:4 “WHAT CHRISTIANS CAN EXPECT FROM THEIR WORLD”

 


One of the ugliest emotions must surely be hate. Some of the ugliest words you may ever hear is, “I hate you”.  Some of the ugliest things that people do to each other is to let their hate turn into an ugly rage. Hitler and his cronies hated Jews, gypsies and handicapped people, and anyone that did not conform to the Nazi vision of a “master race”, was mercilessly exterminated. Jews and Palestinians find no political common ground, and so they hate and kill each other. The Chinese government and many governments in this world hate the Christian church or any faith based movement that does not conform to their political doctrine. The Islamist Boko Haram in Nigeria hates the Christian church. As we speak, we see hate and mockery poured out upon Christians who hold to the authority of Scripture, particularly in matters of creation, gender, marriage etc.

As we make our way to this passage we remember that Jesus was hated[1] for the gospel words that He spoke. Plans were constantly made to arrest Him and to kill Him. In the book of Acts   the early Christian church in Jerusalem was persecuted and dispersed because the Jews hated His followers. And now Jesus reminds us right here, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you…” (15:18 cf. 7:7).

Jesus speaks these words against the background of His earlier words concerning being a fruit-bearing vine (15:1-8). The supreme fruit on our Christian vine are love and joy (15:9 – 17). The Lord Jesus says in conclusion of that section, “These  things I command you, so that  you will love one another”  (15:17). Love is the greatest fruit of the Christian faith.  He has made this point before, in John 13: 34, 35: “A new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Jesus is saying here that the world can only understand Christianity, and therefore Christ, by the love which Christians have for one another. What an awesome responsibility. Pray daily that you will have the desire and ability to love God’s people here at Eastside, for that is where we must begin. Love these people with a Christ-like love i.e. by the standard of 1 Corinthians  13:4-7: 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  We are not simply people that go to the same church.  We are called to be a visible, working, loving body of Christ!

Now this important question arises: Why on earth should this world hate people that are filled with love and joy? The Scriptures we have read this morning in 15:18 – 16:4 follow as an anti-climax to what has gone before. From love we come to the exact opposite: “hate“ (Greek:miseo).  In this 15th chapter Jesus tells us something about  the distinguishing mark of the church (“love”) and the distinguishing mark of the world (“hate”). Let’s try to understand this.

This is not saying that the church always loves, and it is not saying that the world always hates. Sadly, the visible church has sometimes failed in imitating the love of Jesus, particularly when she has been too absorbed by this world. And non-Christians have sometimes shown remarkable capacity for Christ-like love and compassion. We see that the church is capable of failing and the world is able to show common grace. What then must we make of Jesus’ observation here? We have to understand John’s use of the word ‘world’. He describes the world system which is opposed to the gospel system. That world system is driven by hate, whereas the gospel system (which is not equivalent to the visible church) is driven by love.  

Let us try to understand the nature of the hate of the world. In which way exactly does this world system hate Jesus and the gospel way?  Let’s try to understand the ways in which the word hate is used in the Bible and also in everyday speech:

1. When I say, “I hate spinach or broccoli”, then that use of the word hate has no strong moral bearings.  Jesus uses the word  in that sense in  Luke 14:26:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate (miseō) his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.  Jesus does not teach here that you must literally hate your family. What He says is that your love for Him ought to be stronger than that to your family, otherwise it becomes idolatry. It’s a relative use (excuse the pun!) of that word.   I love my family relatively less than Jesus.  Marcelle and I chose to leave our families in South Africa 32 years ago because we wanted to love and obey God in following His call to Namibia and to this church. We love our family, but we love God more. I cannot even begin to tell you how often our love for you has been challenged by our desire to be close to our families.  Here’s another example: In John 12:25 Jesus says, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates (miseō)  his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Does Jesus teach that we must literally hate our own lives? No! He is making a relative distinction between people who love this world, and people who love Him. 

2. The second sense in which hate is used in the Bible is in terms of a right hate for something:  Paul, in Romans 7:15 speaks about hating  the sinful things that  he  does. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate (miseō) I do.  It is morally right to hate wickedness. There is a right way to hate!

3. The third way in which the word “hate” is used relates to unreasonableness and evil. We find a number of these in John’s gospel   (i) John 3:20: For everyone who does wicked things hates (miseō) the light, and does not come to the light lest his works will be exposed. Why should you hate the light which is good? It is evil to love darkness more than light.  (ii) John 7:7:  The world cannot hate you[2], but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil”.  Why does the world hate Jesus?  How can you hate someone who comes to love you and heal you and save you? This is irrational and evil.   The irrationality of this evil sense of hate   is found in 15:25:  But the word that is written in their Law[3] must be fulfilled: They hated me without cause (reason)”. Jesus here says that their hate is  irrational. It does not make sense.  Now this is the predominant way in which ‘hate’ is used here   in John’s gospel. How do we explain this unreasonable hate? Let’s see Jesus’ response:

1.      15:18  Christians must know that they must expect  to be hated as Christ was hated.

2.      15:19a  The world  has no love for  gospel logic. The world loves  its own anti gospel logic and it loves those that endorse the same way of thinking.

3.      15:19b Christians, by virtue  of having been chosen by Christ  do not belong to the world; they belong to Christ. They no longer identify  with the world, and therefore they are hated.  

4.       15:20  A reference back to  13:16  and  a further  amplification of  15:18.

5.       15:21- 24.The real reason for the world’s hate given. The world hates Jesus and His followers because it does not know God the Father who sent Jesus (21). In fact, now that Jesus has come and explained the gospel system and gospel logic (which they have rejected) the world has become even more culpable of its sin (22). And in so doing they do not only reject Jesus, but they reject God the Father who sent Jesus.  

6.      15:25  Here Jesus exposes the  irrationality of hate:  It is in fulfilment of the law. He quotes Psalms 35:19 and 69:4.There is no logical reason, except a sinful stubbornness against God. Truly, sin makes the world irrational.

7.      15:26-7 Ultimately, only the Helper (Paraclete) the Holy Spirit can cure the world’s stubborn resistance/ unbelief and irrationality (cf. 14:16,17). He enables the believer   to believe and bear witness to the truth as it is in Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit can  dissolve  that natural hate/ unbelief  of the human heart- the world system.

Why these are important facts for us to remember?  (16:1 – 4)

1.      16:1 Having understood the root of hate  in this world, particularly against gospel believers, we will not  fall away when persecution  comes, but understand whence it comes from.

2.      16:2,3 So that  we may know that this hate  can  take on serious proportions. The world system which hate Christ and gospel churches  believes  that it offers a service to God. The Pharisees  who embodied this system in Jesus’ day thought that they offered a service to God by having Christ killed. We must understand however, that  this is no service to God , for they do not  truly know the Father  or Jesus.

3.   16:4  To be forewarned is to be forearmed

APPLICATION & CONCLUSION 

Just as the experience  of  the  love of God and of  joy in becoming  a Christian is  profound, so also  the discovery of the irrationality  of the  hate  of the  world  can  sobering experience. In fact, it is one of the most mystifying and disturbing experiences in becoming a Christian  when we experience the hate of the world. Many of us are naïve when it comes to understanding the world’s capacity for irrationality and evil. Jesus teaches us not to be naïve and not to be surprised when these things happen to us.  I have seen it and experienced it.  You start living the Christian life with joyful optimism. You have every intention to help the lost and the hurting of this world. You want to do them good.  You want to share the gospel with your family  and friends and strangers. Initially there may be some interest and  response, but as the truth  and gospel implications  settle upon their  hearts, and as the light of  God’s word begins to expose them, they turn against you with  a surprising  hate.

As a pastor and preacher I see and experience this all the time. I have been surprised  how in the act  bringing God’s healing Word and  His  healing  touch to broken  people, in love with this world system,  suddenly withdraw in an angry manner,  when the light of God’s Word demanded change and repentance. They withdraw when the Word of God demands of them to extend forgiveness to their enemies. They withdraw when the Word of God demands that they should lay aside their pride and be humble and gentle. And all of a sudden their hearts, so invaded by this world system,  explode  with  hate, and  I can do nothing right after that! 

Be aware of this irrational reaction to your loving   attempts in being faithful stewards of the gospel. Understand where this hate comes from, and it will save you from unnecessary discouragement.  I remind you, that often, like the  opponents of Jesus,  that  such  people  will claim to be church members and religious people. Keep that in mind, and do not be intimidated.  Remember that the true measure of a Christian is not that they name the Name of God. A true Christian is known by their fruit (see John 15:1-9). The Pharisees were religious  but they were far from God. Ultimately they do not know  God  and  Jesus.  

Remember above all things that Jesus has given you His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth (15:26). He alone can convict   people of sin and unrighteousness, and so, while  you  speak to  the people of this world in love, at the same time  you must pray and trust the Holy Spirit  for  effecting the  change  of heart. Take  risks to love wayward, stubborn  people anyway, because, amongst these many lost ones, there are Christ’s sheep also  (see John  10: 1 – 21) You have been given  the Great Commission to find them.

We will have to deal with the irrational hate of this world  by understanding where it comes from. It may be a very painful experience, but we gladly bear it, for in so doing we are following in the footsteps of Jesus. Thank God for His word.



[1] See John  5:18; 7:1;8:59;10:31;11:53;

[2] Jesus is here speaking to His physical brothers who as yet did not believe in Him

[3] Psalms 35:19  and  69:4

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Matthew 25:31-46 "The Final Judgment "

 


We have come to the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount of Olives, as contained in Matthew 24 & 25. It contains Jesus’ most succinct teaching on the end times. From here follows a further plot to kill Jesus, His anointing at Bethany, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the betrayal and arrest, the crucifixion and resurrection, ending with the Great Commission in Matthew 28.  

Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which the church remembers the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Normally we would focus on Matthew 21:1-11, but in the providence of God we can look to the greater fulfilment of that triumphal entry.  The ultimate triumphal entry will be the second coming of the Lord Jesus, and the ultimate event associated with that 2nd coming is the final judgement, our focus for today.  We have seen the Lord Jesus speaking about His triumphal coming in 24:29ff. This was followed by 2 parables.  The parable of the 10 virgins (25:1-13) is an exhortation to be prepared for His second coming, and the parable of the talents (25:14-29) deals  with the matter of giving a personal account to  the Lord  for the  investment that He has made  in us. The closing words of the parable of the talents (25:28-30) lead us to the words on the final judgement (25:31-46). So, what we now read from v.31 onwards, builds on what Jesus has said before!  These are solemn and heart searching words.

Our text contains a description of

1.      His ultimate triumphal entry (v.31) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…”

2.      The gathering of  all the nations (v.32a) “Before Him will be gathered all the nations”

3.      The great separation (vv.32b-46) “And he will separate people from one another…”

 

1.      THE ULTIMATE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY (v.31)

V. 31 The judgment of the whole world (all nations) begins when the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with him…”. We will comment on the role of the angels later. This same Jesus who first came in the form of a little baby- supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary, born in humble circumstances, taking on the form of a servant, despised and rejected by men, nailed to a cross, suffering the punishment that was due to the worst of criminals - this same Jesus now comes in His true glory – the glory He had before the world existed (Jn.17:5).

He will sit on His glorious throne”. God is on the throne of the Universe. This is the God whom Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6:1ff. The throne is a place of authority and judgement. God is the Supreme Judge.[1] God the Father has submitted all judgment to Jesus (Jn. 5:22). He and the Father are one, and they are united in their judgement.

2.      THE GATHERING OF ALL THE NATIONS (v.32a)

“Before Him will be gathered all the nations…” – these are all people, created in his image, from all times, since the beginning of the creation of man, from Adam and Eve to the last one born before the coming of Christ. All will be gathered before Him who is seated on His glorious throne.

3.       THE GREAT SEPARATION  (vv.32b-46)

This is what constitutes the main part of our text. These are Jesus’ closing comments   of His teaching on the final things. The key word  is  separation[2]: “And he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats“.

In the first place we need to ask, “What gives Him the right to separate the peoples of the world in this way?” The people of the world may now say, “but, I never belonged to this Christian religion! I was a Muslim, a Buddhist, or an Atheist. He has no right to judge me.” The Bible however maintains that this YAHWEH, the LORD, this JESUS  whom they have denied  and despised  is in fact  the sovereign ruler of the earth. The Bible steadfastly maintains that “the earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all those that dwell therein” (Ps.24:1). Since then He owns all people, He has the right to judge all people/ nations.

Secondly, we need to ask, “How will he judge all people, seeing that many have returned to dust?” Now we need to remember that the second coming of Christ will be associated with a general resurrection of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15).  Note that the righteous dead will be resurrected first (1 Thess. 4:16,17). All this is in accordance with the prophecy of Daniel:  “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt“(Dan.12:2). The Bible insists that at the end of the ages there must be a righteous judgement, and we are glad, for there is so much unfairness and injustice   in this world now.  So, He must judge all! This teaching is strongly represented in the apostolic message. Peter, when called to speak to the household of Cornelius, said in Acts 10:42: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead”. To the Athenian philosophers Paul said, “he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). To the Corinthians  he wrote,  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”(2 Cor. 5:10) 

Associated with the coming of Christ will be the angels. They do not only accompany Him in an impressive dazzling splendor at His triumphal return, but we note that they have a specific job to do. Their work is to gather the evil doers. In Matt.13:41-42 (Parable of the weeds) we read  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers, and  throw them into the fiery furnace.” But their work will also be to gather the elect (Matt.24:31). “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” So we see then that the world (the nations) – the just and the unjust, the wicked and the elect are both spoken to by the Lord Jesus Christ. The whole world is accountable before God (Rom 3:19).

Now follows the teaching on the great Separation:  “… and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”  (25:32b-33). The parable of the wheat and the weeds teaches us that sheep and goats, Christ’s people and non- Christians live together in this world, until that day when the Great Shepherd comes. On that day He will make an accurate distinction between the two.  But what will be the criteria by which He separate them?

25:34- 46  A  Commendation and a Condemnation

Here we find the basis of Jesus’ acquittal and judgment, respectively on the righteous (25:34-40) and the on the unrighteous  (25:41-46). 

1.  The commendation (25:34-40) with respect to the sheep comes first.  V.34 is a crucial text. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom  prepared for you from the  foundation of the world.  Why is this verse important? It forms the basis of a true believer’s justification before God. Now look at vv. 35 & 36. If you read this without first considering v.34,  you might come to the conclusion that  the  commendation of the righteous is primarily based on their good works! “I fed the hungry; I welcomed strangers; I clothed the naked; I visited the sick; I visited the prisoners….”. The tempting conclusion is that since I did these things,  therefore I will inherit the kingdom.  But NO! The justification of the righteous is established on the basis of their election in eternity… ”from the foundation of the world” (v.34). This matches Jesus own teaching in this sermon, here (see Matthew 24:22,24,31) and elsewhere. The basis of God’s salvation is rooted not in our works but in His mercy.  The Bible teaches that God’s sheep are justified before the beginning of time.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ; for he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love He predestined us …  (Eph.1:3-4)

“God … who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.“ (2 Tim. 1:9)  

Nobody is ever justified on the basis of their works before God. We are always justified on the basis of God’s sovereign  grace ALONE, which is based on the atoning death of Christ for sinners ALONE. He ALONE is the ROOT of our salvation. 

Having said that, what then about the strong emphasis on the good works (or the absence of them) that the Great Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ sees, (or fails to see) here?   They are the FRUIT, or the lack of FRUIT which demonstrate our salvation. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING – FRUIT BEARING CHRISTIANS

You will remember that throughout His ministry on earth, the Lord Jesus had stressed the importance of showing mercy to the poor, the hungry and the naked and the sick and those that were imprisoned because of righteousness.[3]  He commands each believer to do the same. What is of significance here is the fact that in each case, a little need is met in the lives of the least of my brothers (i.e. those of the Christian household- who should be always first à Gal. 6:10). Serving the members of Christ in this way honours and serves the Lord Jesus Christ (v.40). Jesus is most honoured in the daily, spontaneous, random little acts of Christian compassion. They are daily moved by the love of Jesus to do these things, and they are mostly not aware of the good that they do to their brothers. These are called the ‘blessed’ here. Wonderful!

By way of contrast we find the proof of absent works in vv.41-45.  Christ’s words to them begin with a condemnation (v.41):  “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels“.  Notice - their judgment rests on the proof of absence of love for the least of these members of his household.   Notice that not a single mention of the really bad sins, murder, idolatry, adultery, theft etc. is mentioned! The Bible is clear that these will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (Gal. 5:19-21). Jesus is here focusing on the subtle sins and signs of absence of grace in the heart.  Notice that the wicked express surprise at the fact  that they are  judged  for  their lack of caring  for these ‘ little things’ (v.44). But in truth their lack of care in these matters shows that they have an unbelieving heart. They have no ROOT and therefore no FRUIT. The result  product of unbelief is eternal punishment (24: 51; 25: 30 41, 46)

CONCLUSION

Jesus’ teaching on the end-times in Matt 24 & 25  does not only reveal  the destruction of the physical temple,  and  the deception  of  many by  the anti- Christ, and the subsequent  victorious  coming of Christ –  and the destruction  of the universe as we know it.  He draws attention  to our readiness to receive Him. He draws attention to the fruitfulness  of our lives in the parable of the talents, and in particular our daily  fruitfulness in the ordinary  things that flow out of our hearts in particular to our brothers and sisters in  Christ. He concludes His teaching by speaking of your and my commendation or condemnation  at the end of days! 

It begs us to take a good look at ourselves and  the great question therefore is this: WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY?



[1] Genesis  18:25; Isa 30:18 ;  Psalm 75:7

[2] Greek:  aphorizō  lit. to mark off by boundaries or  limits (apo- from; horizo –to determine /mark out)

[3] E.g.  Matt 5:7 ; 43-48; 8:17; 9:36; 11:28-30; 12:7,20-21; 14:16,24-36 ;  15:32; 18:1-6, 22,35 ;  19:13-15; 20:28; 22:9,37-39 ;  23:37)

Genesis 39 Joseph - Kept by God against many Odds

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