No Fury Like a Brother’s Scorn

Madison Olsen would finish Friday evening in the snow. It was “surprisingly soft.” This was her chance at an Olympic medal. It was the ski aerials and she was attempting a back-full-double full – that is two back flips with a twist on the first flip and two twists on the second flip. She completed the flips with the twists and landed in the snow…face first. Without any delay, she bounced right up, grabbed her skis, waved and smiled. Madison was receiving a big ovation. Without earning the medal, this was the highest finish for a U. S. woman in twenty years. And she is only twenty-two years old.

Just a couple of years ago she was thinking about retirement; retirement! She had been plagued with injuries and surgeries and more surgeries. And her dad was diagnosed with cancer. Madison then set her mind to enjoy any small moment with her dad – bike riding, sitting on the porch or just doing a puzzle. He died in August of 2016.

Madison Olsen would finish Friday evening in the snow being asked about her dad. She was still smiling, and with the rest of her strength she said, “He would have been proud.”

It is Still All About a Blessing

Genesis 27:1-40 is all about a blessing. It is about a blessing that Isaac, Rebekah’s husband, sought to give to their older son Esau. It is about a blessing that Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, sought to give to their younger son Jacob. It is about a blessing that Jacob sought by looking like Esau, feeling like Esau and even smelling just like Esau. And it is about a blessing that Esau sought from his dad, but it was too late.

Genesis 27:41-28:9 is then all about what happens next. And what happens next has two parts to it. The first part begins with Genesis 27:41. “Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” The second part begins with Genesis 28:6. “Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him.” And it is these two verses of these two parts that draw our attention to what Genesis 27:41-28:9 is really all about. But make sure to see what brings these two parts together. Think of this like a bridge; look to see what bridges these two parts together.

Look and listen to Genesis 28:1. “Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him.” Look and listen to Genesis 28:3. “God Almighty bless you.” Look and listen to Genesis 28:4. “May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring.” What is the bridge? It is there three times – the word blessing. And when this bridge is connected to Genesis 27:41 and Genesis 28:6, it is to the word blessing. All together the word blessing occurs seven times. Genesis 27:41-28:9 is all about what happens next. And in one word what happens next is still all about a blessing.

Why Does Esau Hate Jacob?

Pay close attention to how it all begins. “Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 27:41). There is but one big question to ask. Why does Esau hate Jacob?

Notice the word hate. It is a rather interesting word. It is rather interesting because it only occurs six times in the Old Testament. It is a rather interesting word because three of the six times it occurs in the Old Testament are found in Genesis. It is a rather interesting word because of the three times found in Genesis, two are about brothers. It is a rather interesting word because at the close of Genesis, Jacob’s own sons wonder if their brother Joseph hates them (cf. Genesis 50:15).

This word hate means to hold a grudge against or to cherish animosity against. Is that not rather peculiar, that hate would involve cherishing? It also means to lurk for, which just gives the picture of the hater hiding in the dark so as to not be seen by the hated.

But why did Esau hate Jacob? Genesis 27:41 continues to tell us that Esau hated Jacob, “because of the blessing.” Look back at Genesis 27:36. “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Why would Esau hate Jacob because of the blessing? Jacob took it from him! But there is more!

Why did Esau hate Jacob? Genesis 27:41 continues with more. “…because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him.” Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing and not merely because Jacob took it from him, but because this blessing meant something. It was the blessing with which his father had blessed Jacob. It was supposed to be the blessing with which his father was to bless Esau. Listen to the rest of Genesis 27:41. “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” Esau has this plan to kill Jacob. This plan alone is what is comforting Esau. But there is more. Who else is mentioned? Esau will not touch his brother until after their dad’s funeral. Esau is still under the impression that his dad is dying (cf. Genesis 27:2). But why does Esau hate Jacob? And why will Esau wait to kill Jacob? It all has something to do with dad. It all has something to do with Esau and his dad.

Esau Spoke to Himself, But Rebekah Listened

Genesis 27:41 says that Esau spoke to himself. He told himself about his plan to kill his brother, but not before his dad’s funeral. Genesis 27:42 says that Rebekah heard about this plan. At some point, Esau shared with someone his plan and this someone then shared it with Rebekah. Who would Esau share his plan with? And for what reason would this someone have to share it with Rebekah? I wondered if it was one of Esau’s wives, wives who Rebekah loathed. What reason would they have to share this plan with their mother-in-law?

Anyway, Rebekah finds out about it. It is just like when she overheard Isaac’s intentions to bless Esau and only Esau. She does not talk to her husband about this plan. She does not attempt to stop Esau from this plan. Instead, she calls for Jacob, tells him the plan and then comes up with her own plan. This all sounds like déjà vu all over again! Her plan is to get Jacob out of town as soon as possible. She seeks to send him to her brother’s house which is miles and miles and months and months away in Paddan-aram. Her thought is that Jacob will just need to be there for a few days or a short while (27:42-45). Rebekah is unaware, but this is her last appearance in Genesis. Rebekah is unaware, but Jacob will not be with his uncle for a few days. Jacob will be away from home for about twenty years. Rebekah is unaware, but she will never see Jacob again. There is no email to be had with Jacob. There is no face time to be had with Jacob. Ironically, we do not hear from Jacob in this passage. Rebekah is unaware, but she will never hear his voice again.

She never tells her husband what their son Esau is planning. But she needs to get Jacob out of town and so as to make it seem that Jacob is not running away, she needs her husband to take charge and send him away. Listen to what she says to Isaac. She tells him the truth. “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (27:46). Jacob is a single man. Esau is a married man to two women…two Hittite women (cf. 26:34-35).

Isaac Calls for His Son for the First Time

Rebekah’s words about Jacob’s availability and the women of the land, the Canaanite women, put new life into Isaac. He calls for his younger son for the first time and notice, “and blessed him” (28:1). And he gives him a charge to go to his uncle’s house. The sense feels like he should do this immediately, like there is no time to pack. And he charges Jacob to go there to get a wife. And then Isaac blesses him again. This blessing is acknowledging that God’s blessing to Abraham, which is also God’s blessing to Isaac, is now God’s blessing to Jacob and his offspring. It just means that all God has set to accomplish since Genesis 3:15 and through Abraham will be accomplished through Jacob. So, he sends him away.

Now Esau Saw His Dad

But what is most important is Genesis 28:6. “Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob.” Pause there. Think back to Genesis 27:41. Why were we told that Esau hated Jacob? It was because of the blessing, referring to the blessing of Genesis 27:1-40, with which his father had blessed Jacob. And what does Esau see now? He sees his dad blessing Jacob again. But most importantly, he sees his dad.

Remember, Esau’s plan was to kill his brother, but not until after his dad’s funeral. Rebekah’s plan was to send Jacob away until his brother’s fury and scorn faded away. Listen to what is discovered beginning with Genesis 28:6. Esau’s anger has faded way. Esau’s fury has faded away. And why? Because he saw his dad.

Esau knew that his dad blessed Jacob and sent him away to find a non-Canaanite, non-Hittite wife. Who has two Canaanite, Hittite wives? Esau! And what else did Esau see? “…and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram. So, when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father” (28:7-8). Esau saw his brother obey. Esau saw, like it is the first time, that Canaanite women did not please his father and he has two of them as wives. So, what does he do? He goes to his Uncle Ishmael’s house while Jacob goes to his Uncle Laban and he seeks a non-Canaanite wife. When Esau saw his dad, what did he do? He imitated Jacob. Earlier Jacob had imitated Esau by looking like Esau, feeling like Esau, smelling like Esau just to get the blessing. Here Esau imitated Jacob by looking like Jacob, but not feeling like Jacob or smelling like Jacob. How did Esau look like Jacob? Obedience.

Why did Esau do it? Why did Esau imitate Jacob here? It could have been to get an additional blessing, but I think there is more. Why did Esau do it? It was to please his father.

The heart of Genesis 27:41-28:9 is about pleasing a parent. It is about Esau pleasing his dad. It may be why he hated Jacob and why that blessing meant so much to him. Esau lived to please his dad. Esau did what he did to please his dad. And it begs the question, is there a danger in living to please a parent? When is it a danger to do what we do solely to please a parent?

2 Timothy 3:5 talks of “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” Hebrews 12:16-17 exhorts us to not be like Esau. When is it a danger to do what we do solely to please a parent? It is when we put on the appearance of godliness while having no godliness. This comes in all forms. There are children who live to please their parents talking like a Christian, walking like a Christian, looking like a Christian, and…all the while their heart is so far from God. This is Esau.

What pleases a dad? What really pleases a mom? It is when a child seeks to glorify God by enjoying him forever.

Advertisements

What Then Can I Do For You, My Son?

Thomas Stevenson was an engineer. His grandfather was an engineer. His father was an engineer. His brother was an engineer. His other brother was an engineer. His nephew was an engineer. His other nephew was an engineer. His brother-in-law was an engineer. His son was…a writer. His son was Robert Louis Stevenson, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island.

Thomas raised his son, his only child, to not so much be an engineer or to be a writer, but to believe the Bible. And if Robert was asked, “What is the chief end of man?” he could answer, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” And if Robert was asked, “What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?” he could answer, “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”

Robert would attend Edinburgh University. There he would form a club which had as one of its mottos, “Ignore everything that our parents taught us.” His dad would discover this motto among some of his son’s things. It was then that Robert informed him that he no longer believed in the Christian faith. In what has been called an overstatement lacking the precision of truth, but carried the weight of sorrow, Thomas responded, “You have rendered my whole life a failure.” What does a dad then do?

Listen to something Robert wrote to a friend. “It was really pathetic to hear my father praying pointedly for me today at family worship, and to think the poor man’s supplications were addressed to nothing better able to hear and answer than the chandelier.”[1] It hurts to read these words. It hurts to hear these words until you realize what a father did for his son. This father prayed pointedly for his son. And this father continued to worship. And did you notice, the son was there to hear his father.

It is All About a Blessing

Genesis 27:1-40 seems really straightforward. It is all about a blessing. It is all about a blessing before it is too late. Isaac, Rebekah’s husband, seeks to bless their son before it is too late (Genesis 27:1-4). Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, seeks to have their son blessed before it is too late (Genesis 27:5-13). But there is a problem. Both parents are seeking the same, lone blessing for two different sons! Isaac seeks to give this blessing to Esau the hairy older son. Rebekah seeks to get this blessing for Jacob the smooth younger son.

And there is still a problem. How will each seek this blessing? It is the big question. And by each it is meant Isaac and Rebekah, Esau and Jacob. But especially Esau.

How Does Isaac Seek this Blessing?

How does Isaac seek this blessing? Pay careful attention to how it all begins. It is Genesis 27:1. “When Isaac was old…” We are first told that Isaac was old. How old? We do not know, except when Isaac’s mom was 89 years old she said she was old and she gave birth for the first time a year later (Genesis 18:13). And when Isaac’s dad was old, at least 140 years old, he remarried and had lots of kids (Genesis 24:1). In Genesis 27, Isaac was at least 100 years old (Genesis 25:26 plus Genesis 26:34). And we know that when Isaac died he was 180 years old (Genesis 35:28). And keep in mind that there are eight chapters in between Genesis 27 and Genesis 35. What is the point?

Pay careful attention to how Genesis 27:1 continues. “When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see…” So, not only was Isaac old, but he was blind. This is important because throughout Genesis 27, there is an emphasis on Isaac’s senses. “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son” (Genesis 27:21). “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Genesis 27:22). “And he ate…and he drank” (Genesis 27:25). “And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son’” (Genesis 27:27).

There is an emphasis not just on Isaac’s senses, but all five senses – sight, touch, sound, taste, smell. And the emphasis is not so much about relying on these senses but thinking with these senses; one more than the others.

And when Isaac was old and blind he called for his son. Which son? Esau and only Esau. He called for Esau and said – pay close attention to what he says and how he says it – “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death.” Isaac was old, but was Isaac dying? Was Isaac close to death? No! He was closer to old than he was to death! But Isaac just states what was true. He was old and did not know when he will die. Why is he talking like this? It was because he was hungry! “Go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die” (Genesis 27:3-4).

And how does Isaac seek this blessing? It sounds so similar to the day that Esau sold his birthright. On that day he came in from the field famished, so famished that he was about to die! Who does that sound like, or better yet, where did Esau learn to talk like that? And on that day, Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for some stew because he was hungry. So, how does Isaac on this day seek this blessing? Before it is too late – I am about to die (not really). But more importantly, he seeks this blessing with the sense of taste and with hunger and he seeks to give this blessing after he tastes some delicious food and his hunger is satisfied. He will give the blessing for some delicious food.

How Does Rebekah Seek this Blessing?

How does Rebekah seek this blessing? Listen to Genesis 27:5. “Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau.” Rebekah was eavesdropping! So, she called for her son. Which son? Jacob and only Jacob. She shares with Jacob that Isaac is going to bless Esau before he dies, but not before he eats. Listen then to her plan. “Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies” (Genesis 27:9-10). But there is a problem and Jacob knows it. “Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me” (27:11-12). Jacob voices no objection! He is just thinking the whole thing through down to the last hairy detail.

But, how does Rebekah seek this blessing? Before it is too late! This all has to be done – the preparing the delicious food and preparing Jacob to give the delicious food – before Esau gets back. Remember, Esau was out in the field hunting game.

How Does Jacob Seek this Blessing?

How does Jacob seek this blessing? He gets the two good young goats so that his mom can prepare delicious food. But Jacob too needs to be prepared. Listen to Genesis 27:15-16. “Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck.” Jacob looks like Esau and he also smells like Esau. But there is a problem and Jacob will know it.

He takes the delicious food to his father looking like Esau and smelling like Esau. He is eager to give the delicious food to his father and for one reason: to get the blessing. There is so much suspense here! Isaac will not give the blessing until his hunger is satisfied. And he stalls. Who are you? How did you find the game and prepare it so fast? Come close that I may feel if you are really Esau my son (Genesis 27:18-21). But there is a problem. “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (27:22). Isaac’s ears are telling him that something is not right. Jacob spoke, but those hands are fooling his mind. Is this really Esau? And if Isaac was not so hungry…

We wait with Jacob as he waits. His father eats. His father drinks. His father desires his son’s affection. Jacob is waiting for that blessing. How then does Jacob seek this blessing? Before it is too late! Remember, Esau was out in the field hunting game and most likely now preparing delicious food. Jacob needs to get this blessing before it is too late, before Esau comes walking into the room. And when Isaac smells his son, it is the smell of Esau. So, Isaac gives the blessing because “See, the smell of my son!”

And the blessing is that which echoes God’s revealed will of Genesis 25:23. And we discover something. Isaac knew God’s revealed will of Genesis 25:23 for his sons. He knew the older (Esau) was to serve the younger (Jacob). But what was Isaac seeking to do? He sought to redirect God’s revealed will to his son Esau. Rebekah knew God’s revealed will too for her sons. She thought God needed a little help moving his will along. Instead of taking a moment to display a holy hope in God, she acted without seeking God.

How Does Esau Seek this Blessing?

How does Esau seek this blessing? “As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting” (27:30). Esau too had prepared some delicious food and brought it to his father. He was seeking the blessing. He knew he would not get the blessing until his father’s hunger was satisfied. He must have been so anxious and filled with some excitement for this was it. He had sold that birthright years ago. He too must have known about God’s revealed will and perhaps it is why he despised his birthright. But what mattered was not the past or God’s Word, no, what mattered was his father’s word, the words of the blessing that were mere moments away. But it was too late. How did Esau seek this blessing? It was too late.

And Isaac realized it too. He had inadvertently blessed the son that was to be blessed, but not the son he sought to bless. Isaac realized “the invincible determination of God to keep his word.” So, he declares, “Yes, and he [Jacob] shall be blessed” (27:33). Again, how did Esau seek this blessing? He sought it with tears and without repentance (Hebrews 12:16-17). He wanted it, he wanted it so badly! If only he never sold his birthright. And the saddest part for Esau is that Esau never used this as a chance to repent. He only grew bitter (Genesis 27:34, 38).

What Then Can I Do for You, My Son?

I feel, though, for…Isaac, the dad. Perhaps, it is because I am a dad and I have two children. When all is said and done, Isaac asks, “What then can I do for you, my son?” (Genesis 27:37). It is the problem of the chapter. I know there is blame to go all around in this family of four. No one is a hero. Everyone loses something in this chapter. But I feel that question in verse thirty-seven. What can you do for a child like Esau? What can you do for a child that has grown bitter; defiant; unrepentant; even despising the things of God? What can you do for a child like Robert Louis Stevenson?

1. Pray pointedly.

2. Worship continually.

[1] John Piper, The Satisfied Soul, page 58

And I Will Be With You

It was every evening. And every evening as he laid in bed as a child, he would hear his mother crying out to God. She was crying out for him, asking God that her little boy would turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. It was every evening. And every evening as he laid in bed as a teenager, he would hear his mother crying out to God. She was crying out for him, asking God that her teenage boy would turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. It was every evening. And every evening as a grown man he knew that his mother was praying that her son would turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. It was a Sunday morning. He could not explain it, but he just felt the need to attend a church worship service. And he did. It was a Sunday morning. He could not explain it, but he just felt the need to attend the church worship service for a second time. And he did. It was the third consecutive Sunday morning, he could not explain it, but he just felt the need to attend the church worship service. He did. And he as sat there, he turned to his wife and said, “I do not know about you, but today I am getting saved.” He was 40 years old.

It was a Saturday morning. And on this morning, at 81 years old, he laid in a hospital bed. He smiled. And he would hear his grandson remind him, “Be strong and courageous, Papa. Do not be afraid, Papa. Do not be dismayed, Papa. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

What is it All About?

Really pay attention to Genesis 26:1. “Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines.” But also, really pay attention to Genesis 26:34-35. “When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.”

Genesis 26 is one chapter. It is one chapter in a section of Genesis called the account of Isaac (Genesis 25:19). The account of Isaac consists of ten chapters beginning with Genesis 25:19 and concluding with Genesis 35:29. Most of those ten chapters, most of the account of Isaac is about his twin sons Esau and Jacob…except for Genesis 26. Genesis 26 is the most extensive chapter about Isaac in the account of Isaac. But really pay attention to how the chapter begins. Notice who is mentioned as the chapter begins – Abraham, Isaac and Abimelech. Abraham was Isaac’s father. Isaac was Abraham’s son. And Abimelech was a king.

But also, really pay attention to how the chapter ends. Notice who is mentioned as the chapter ends – Esau, Judith, Basemath, Isaac and Rebekah. Esau was the son of Isaac. Judith was Esau’s wife. Basemath was Esau’s wife. Isaac was Esau’s father. Rebekah was Esau’s mother. Notice who is not mentioned as the chapter ends. Isaac had two sons. Jacob is not mentioned as the chapter ends. Why? Better yet, what is similar to how the chapter begins and how the chapter ends? Abraham and Isaac. Isaac and Esau. Abraham was Isaac’s father. Isaac was Abraham’s son. Isaac was Esau’s father. Esau was Isaac’s son.

So, we want to ask, what is Genesis 26 really all about?

Like Father, Like Son

Let’s look again at Genesis 26:1. “Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines.” What is the point? There is a famine. This is the account of Isaac and there is a famine. But what do we also know? This is the second famine. The first famine was in the days of Abraham. And who was Abraham? He was Isaac’s dad. What is the point? Like his dad, Isaac lived during a famine.

But there is more. Notice the rest of Genesis 26:1. “And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines.” What is the point? There is Abimelech, he is a king. There is the time that Abraham went to Gerar to Abimelech. So, what is the point? Like his dad, Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech. What is Genesis 26 really all about? Like father, like son both have in common a famine. And like father, like son both have in common Abimelech. And like father, like son both…

You Are So Beautiful to Me

In Genesis 12 when there was a famine, Abraham went down to Egypt. And when Abraham went down to Egypt, he said to his wife, “You are so beautiful to me…let’s tell everyone that you are not my wife, but my sister.” And why? It was because Abraham was afraid. He was afraid that other men would obviously see how beautiful Sarah was, kill him and take her. In Genesis 20 when Abraham went to Gerar to King Abimelech, he did the very same thing! He told the very same lie. “You are so beautiful to me…let’s tell everyone that you are not my wife, but my sister.” And why? It was because Abraham was afraid. He was afraid that other men would obviously see how beautiful Sarah was, kill him and take her. In Genesis 26 when there was a famine, Isaac went to Gerar to King Abimelech. He looked at his wife and thought “She is so beautiful to me.” And when someone asked about his wife he told them, “She is my sister.” And why? It was because Isaac was afraid. He was afraid that other men would obviously see how beautiful Rebekah was, kill him and take her. Like father, like son both told a lie, the same lie. Both got found out and rebuked too. But there is so much more!

And like his dad, Isaac ends up staying in Gerar for a while (26:8). Like his dad, Isaac gets wealthier in Gerar (26:13). Like his dad, Isaac has disputes with the men of Gerar over wells of water (26:15-22). Like his dad, he digs a well at a place called Beersheba (26:23-25). Like his dad, Abimelech makes an oath with Isaac because it is better to have Isaac as a friend than an enemy (26:26-33). And like his dad, Isaac calls upon the name of the Lord at Beersheba (26:25; cf. Genesis 20:14; 21:22-34).

And the question remains, what is Genesis 26 really all about? Like father, like son. But which father and son? Which father and son is Genesis 26 really all about? It is important to remember how the chapter begins and how the chapter ends. There is Isaac and there is Esau.

Now There was a Famine in the Land

Listen again to Genesis 26:1. “Now there was a famine in the land.” Highlight the word famine. What is always true about a famine? Famines are about lack, here specifically, a lack of food. And when there is a lack of food, people go hungry. And when people go hungry, there is death. Famines are serious.

But what I want us to notice is that the present circumstance is this famine. And we know it is the present circumstance because we are reminded of the former famine in the days of Abraham, a famine in the past. Interestingly, from the viewpoint of Genesis 26 there is this past famine in Genesis 12, but there is also a future famine. It begins in Genesis 41. The past famine was in the days of Abraham. This present famine is in the days of Isaac and the future famine will be in the days of Isaac’s son Jacob.

But really important is that this famine, this present circumstance is Isaac’s present circumstance. And in this present circumstance it seems that he thinks it best to go to Egypt. Why? Egypt has a year-round water supply called the Nile. No famine is there and if there is water and no famine, there is food. As he goes, God tells him to stop. “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 26:2). Now notice verse three. “Sojourn in this land.” This land is the land of Gerar (cf. Genesis 26:1). Sojourn is a command. God is commanding Isaac to stay in Gerar. And Gerar is in the same land as the famine. Listen to what God is commanding Isaac to do. Stay in your present circumstance. It seems logical and sensible and wise to go to Egypt. His dad did. And when Jacob his son endures a famine, God will command him to go to Egypt (cf. Genesis 46:3-4). Listen to what God tells Jacob at that time. “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt.”

But God commands Isaac to stay; stay in the midst of the famine; stay in the present circumstance. Interestingly, sojourn means a temporary stay. So, what does that tell us about the present circumstance? It too is temporary. Present circumstances are always temporary. But there is also Genesis 26:8. Isaac stays a really long time. Present circumstances, although temporary, can sure feel long.

And I Will Be with You

The end result is that Isaac obeys and in obeying he was reminded that his father’s life was marked by obedience (cf. Genesis 26:6; 5). But what I want us to see is what God says for Isaac in this present, temporary albeit long circumstance. I will be with you. I will bless you. I will give all these lands to you and to your offspring. I will establish the oath made to Abraham. I will multiply your offspring (26:3-4a). Notice that these are promises. It is the first time that God has made promises to Isaac. But also notice that each promise is future. For Isaac’s present, temporary albeit long circumstance he has God’s promises.

When we first really get introduced to Isaac he was married, and his wife was barren. And since she was barren, Isaac prayed and prayed and prayed for her. Isaac prayed for her convinced that God was faithful to God’s promise to Abraham. Here in Genesis 26, Isaac does not have God’s promises to Abraham. Instead, he has God’s promises to Isaac. The question for Isaac is, “will I live in a present, temporary albeit long circumstance convinced that God is faithful to his promises to me?” The question for us is, “will I live in a present, temporary albeit long circumstance convinced that God is faithful to his promises?” Better yet, how do you do that?

Genesis 26 is about like father, like son, but not so much Abraham and Isaac, but Isaac and Esau. And the big question is, is Isaac like Esau? Is Esau like Isaac? In the previous verses, Genesis 25:29-34, Esau was famished. He thought he was in a famine. “I am so hungry I could die! Feed me!” He sold his birthright to his brother for some soup. The birthright was all future, future promises. Esau lived for the present and forsook the future for the present. His dad lived in the present, in a real famine, for the sake of the future. How did Isaac do it?

Notice the very first promise in Genesis 26:3. “And I will be with you.” Notice Genesis 26:24. “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you.” Notice Genesis 26:28. “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you.” Future, present and past – God’s presence. How do you live in the now, endure present, temporary although rather long circumstances? In the future, God is with me. In the present, God is with me. In the past, God was with me. It is the special presence of God. God is spatially present everywhere always. But this, Genesis 26, is not the spatial presence of God. This is the special presence of God. Psalm 105:4 tells us to “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” This is about enjoying God even in the famines – he will be with me; he is with me; he was with me! But how do I do it? See too Isaiah 43:1-3.

Listen closer to Genesis 26:5. “Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Why tell Isaac, why tell us about obedience? This is about enjoying God and seeking his presence. How do I do it? Listen to Jesus. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).

And Thus Esau Despised His Birthright

It was recently said by a man of God that the next revival needed is a revival of prayer. Today as never before God’s children are too rushed to take time to pray. A multitude of activities will keep them from this sacred calling, and yet it is manifestly true that every genuine revival was born in a prayer meeting. It is in prayer that Christians fail most. It is in this that the enemy of our souls fights the hardest. It is in this that God promises the most infinite reward. It is the pulse of the church, and to lose it is to lose the church’s very life.[1]

Behold, There Were Twins

Genesis 25:19-34 is sixteen verses. It is about Isaac, he is Abraham’s son. It is about Rebekah, she is Isaac’s wife. It is about Esau, he is the older, red and hairy firstborn of Isaac and Rebekah. It is about Jacob, he is the younger and much less hairy and quiet second born of Isaac and Rebekah. Esau and Jacob are twins. And it is about Esau. Each verse of this passage leads up to verse thirty-four. “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” The word despised, and we see this in the context, means to treat carelessly or to think worthless. Esau did not see it; he did not see the point or think it a big deal to be the big brother, the firstborn. And the big question is, why did he despise his birthright?

Genesis 25:19-34 is sixteen verses. Each verse of this passage leads up to verse thirty-four. And the key verse is Genesis 25:24. It is the key verse for two reasons. First, it answers the big question, why did Esau despise his birthright? But it is also the key verse for a second reason. “When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb.” And the word to pay attention to is behold. It could be translated as look, but with an exclamation point. Look! The word itself is used intentionally. It is an abrupt remark and it adds to how the verse is read. You do not see it coming and it causes you to give much attention to what follows. There were twins in her womb.

The word behold is found often in both the Old and New Testament. And in both testaments, it gets used in almost identical ways. On Christmas evening, some shepherds were out in some field watching some sheep. And an angel appeared to them, stood among them and said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all people.” Interestingly, like Genesis 25:24, the word behold here is in the context of a birth. But what is really important is, who is told to behold? Who is it for? In Luke 2:10, some shepherds are told to behold. Some shepherds are told to look! It is for shepherds.

We want to keep this in mind as we look back at Genesis 25:24, and the question there is, who is told to behold? Who is it for? This key verse, the second reason this is the key verse, is for us. We are told to behold. Genesis 25:24 is written for us. Some translations use the word indeed. “When her days to give birth were completed, indeed there were twins in her womb.” Indeed, there were twins. Behold, there were twins. And it is an abrupt remark. Why? Why this abrupt remark now?

This is the Account of Isaac

The passage begins with verse nineteen. “These are the generations of Isaac,” or “This is the account of Isaac.” And what follows are ten chapters which have very little to do with Isaac and more to do with his twin boys. And these sixteen verses treat Isaac in the same way. It is the account of Isaac, but almost has very little to do with Isaac and more to do with his twin boys. However, this is the account of Isaac because it all begins with Isaac.

He was forty years old as the passage begins. It is one of the first facts we are given about Isaac as his account unfolds. The first fact is that he was Abraham’s son, which might be the most important fact. He was Abraham’s son and he was forty years old. And the third fact is that Isaac prayed for his wife. And why did Isaac pray for his wife? It was because she was barren. Keep this before you: Isaac was Abraham’s son; Isaac was forty years old; Isaac prayed for his wife because she was barren. And God granted his prayer, but it is not until Genesis 25:26 that we learn when God granted Isaac’s prayer. It was when Isaac was sixty years old. When Isaac was sixty years old his wife gave birth to twin boys. This means that Isaac prayed and prayed and prayed for his wife for ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty years. The point is that Isaac persevered in prayer. The account of Isaac is that he persevered in prayer.

Why Did Isaac Persevere in Prayer?

Keep all of the facts before you: Isaac was Abraham’s son; Isaac was forty years old; Isaac prayed for his wife because she was barren; God granted Isaac’s prayer when Isaac was sixty years old. Isaac persevered in prayer, but why? He was convinced that God was faithful to the promise God made to Abraham. Remember, God’s promise to Abraham is about offspring, offspring through Isaac. But why would Isaac be convinced that God was faithful to his promise he made to Abraham? Certainly, Isaac’s father Abraham shared with him all he knew and had experienced with the one true God. Surely, Isaac knew Genesis 12 through Genesis 21. Isaac himself experienced Genesis 22 – the Lord will provide.

But there is Genesis 24. Genesis 24 is about seeking and finding a wife for Isaac. It was the task of Abraham’s oldest and most trusted servant. The servant had understandable reservations and questions about the task. But he heard God’s Word; set out for the task and prayed (Genesis 24:7; 10; 12). Listen to his prayer. “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.” Steadfast love is a good word, a good Old Testament word to have in your vocabulary. It is the Hebrew word hesed (checed). It means loyalty or faithfulness, but in this context, it means covenant loyalty or covenant faithfulness. God had made a covenant to Abraham, a promise, about these offspring through Isaac (see Genesis 17:1-4; 7). And the servant’s prayer is that God show in this task his loyalty to his promise he made to Abraham. And something unexpected happens. God showed his loyalty. God showed his faithfulness. But what was unexpected was who God showed it to. God showed his faithfulness to his promise he made to Abraham and he showed it to this servant (cf. Genesis 24:27). What does this have to do with Isaac and Isaac persevering in prayer? Listen to Genesis 24:67. “And the servant told Isaac all the things he had done.” The servant told Isaac everything.

And God Did More Than Asked or Imagined

God granted Isaac’s prayer; Rebekah conceived, and God did more than Isaac asked or even imagined. Listen to Genesis 25:22. “The children…” This is important. The word children is plural. God granted Isaac’s prayer; Rebekah conceived, and she conceived children. But we know this before Isaac and before Rebekah know this. We know that God has done it and done more than asked or even imagined. And it is not until Genesis 25:23 that Rebekah gets a glimpse that God has done it; he has done more than Isaac asked or even imagined. Rebekah sought out God. And he answered her. She had questions about this pregnancy and she also had God’s promise. And God answered. God told her that there were two nations in her womb, two peoples in her womb. One would be stronger than the other. The older would serve the younger. Question, which is the stronger one? The one who will be served. Their names will be Esau and Jacob. Two nations will come from these two boys. Esau is the older. He and the nation to come from him will serve the younger. Jacob is the younger and the nation to come from him will be the stronger.

After the birth of these two boys and after these two boys had grown up, we are told that Isaac loved or favored Esau. It was because Esau loved the outdoors and he loved to hunt. He was really good at hunting. But Jacob was quiet, he was refined, a man of the house and his mom loved or favored him. Why did she favor Jacob over Esau? I think it is because of what she heard. He was to be the stronger one; he was to be served; and he would be the father of a stronger nation.

But in Genesis 25:19-24, it is really important to see that God did it. God did more than asked or imagined, but God did it. This is the point of verse twenty-four. It is the reason for this abrupt remark – behold! It is why it is for us. We first knew of the children in Rebekah’s womb before Rebekah knew of the children in Rebekah’s womb. And we heard then what Rebekah heard. The children are twins! And in verse twenty-four, Moses writes for us, “behold, indeed, there were twins.” It is meant to cause us to stop. This abrupt remark is meant to grab our attention and just stop.

I have spent more time on these sixteen verses than any other passage in Genesis. Why? I do not know…until Friday. I know that God’s Word is God speaking. He has used this passage, in particular verse twenty-four, to get me to slow down. I had the attitude of wanting to look and not merely move on but keep going and get further into Genesis. But Genesis 25:24 demands a pause. Behold.

It is an invitation. Not an invitation to pray. Not an invitation to seek God. We are commanded to do those things (Psalm 105:1; 4). It is not an invitation to know God’s promises or to know God’s will, which is to say to know, read, study, meditate upon God’s Word. We are commanded to do those things too (Joshua 1:8). This is an invitation to come and behold; to pause in awe and marvel. God did it. It was as God said and it was more than could have been imagined.

Esau Despised His Birthright

All sixteen verses lead up to “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” Why did he despise it? The birthright had privileges – to be the man of the house, to get the larger inheritance. Of course, in this account is how Jacob got the birthright. Esau sold it to Jacob for some soup. And so, we see a bit of Jacob’s character. He came out of the womb holding on to his brother’s heel. Initially, this was a good thing. To be at someone’s heels was to be at their rearguard, to be their protector. But Jacob is not seen as a protector but rather as one grabbing for something that is not his. But the focus is on Esau. Esau did no savoring. Not only did he despise his birthright, he did not even enjoy the soup that he purchased with his birthright. He gulped it (cf. 25:30, 34).

This birthright was wrapped up in the previous verses. It was wrapped up in God’s promises, his will, his word, what he had done, what he will do, but most importantly, when God has done it, we might say, “Look at that! God has most certainly done it!” But Esau knowing the previous verses did not savor it. He never savored all that God had done, especially when it came to his own birth. Instead, he ate and drank and got up and went his way. He never savored.

It is why Genesis 25:24 is so important to Genesis 25:34. It is why Moses with that abrupt remark causes us to stop and look. It is to savor. And it is for us. It is for us do some praying and praying and praying. Just like Isaac. And it concerns us, the life of this church, praying together here in this home and praying in our homes. Forgive me; I have kept the Wednesday prayer guide to Wednesdays, in that prayer room. I have kept it from you. You need it. We need it to grow. We need it to be praying; praying for Jonathans and Jaclyns and Jacobs and watching the prayer guide grow, watching the prayer requests, the heartfelt petitions grow and watching all of this together as we pray. But we must pray for these things according to God’s promises; according to God’s will and this is only found in God’s Word. And as we pray, we also pray anticipating some pauses. We will pause that we might see and say, “He has done it; God has done it!” And we pause like this so that we might do some savoring.

Isaac prayed and prayed and prayed. And God did more than Isaac asked or imagined. But imagine this, what if Isaac never prayed? What if Isaac never asked?

 

[1] The Nyack Correspondence School, A Course in Practical Methods of Christian Work, page 5. Written over 50 years ago.

He Gazed at Her in Silence

I am not one to wear a shirt or parade a bumper sticker which reads, “I love my wife.” But this March will mark twenty years of dating my wife. Our first date was a Saturday. It was sunny and pleasant. I greeted her with flowers; daisies. Reservations for dinner were made at a fine restaurant called Applebee’s. We sat across from one another at a round, high table. Lisa ordered soup and I splurged for the chicken fingers platter. After dinner, we took in a show at the theater, the movie theater. When the movie ended, I drove my date to her home. I walked her to the door. It was there that we shared true love’s first kiss which was followed by true love’s second kiss. I love my wife.

I Will Not Eat

Genesis 24 is long. It is long for only one reason: the servant. The servant is first introduced in verse two. “And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had.” The servant is made to swear an oath to Abraham; an oath concerning Abraham’s son Isaac.

There are four things to know about this oath. First, this oath is because Isaac must have a wife. Second, this oath is because Isaac must have a wife, but not a woman of the Canaanites. The Canaanites are the people who dwell in the land of Canaan, a land where Abraham along with Isaac dwell. Third, this oath is because Isaac must have a wife, not a woman of the Canaanites, and Isaac himself must not leave this land of Canaan to find this wife. This wife is to come from Abraham’s home country, the land of his kindred. And fourth, this servant is to find this wife. And this servant is just not to find this wife, the right woman for Isaac, but personally is to hope that she is willing to return with him to the land of Canaan. And this wife, the right woman, is to be willing not just to return with this servant to the land of Canaan, but marry a man sight unseen. She will have never met Isaac. There is no profile picture to be shown, no about you page to read. The most this woman can do is return with this servant to the land of Canaan and marry a man sight unseen, based upon the witness of this servant alone. This is not a miracle, just remarkable.

And Genesis 24 is long. It is long for only one reason: the servant. The servant will hear and then experience Genesis 24:1-27. And he is so impressed with what he heard and then experienced that he cannot wait to tell it to somebody. Listen to Genesis 24:33. He is in the home of the right woman and with her brother and her father and her mother. He then says, “I will not eat until I have said what I have to say.” In Genesis 24:34-48, the servant then shares with this family all that he heard and then experienced. And when finished, he challenges the hearers, “Now tell me, what do you think about all that?” (cf. Genesis 24:49).

And Genesis 24 is long. It is long for only one reason: the servant. The servant eventually returns to the land of Canaan and meets up with Isaac. When he does, the servant cannot wait to share all that heard and then experienced. “And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done” (Genesis 24:66). The servant shared with Isaac all that he heard and then experienced, and not just Genesis 24:1-27, but Genesis 24:1-61.

And Genesis 24 is long. It is long for only one reason.

And It is Not a Love Story

The right woman returns with the servant to the land of Canaan to marry a man sight unseen. Her name is Rebekah. She returned with the servant based upon the witness of the servant alone. And when she returns with the servant is my favorite part of the chapter.

It begins toward evening. Perhaps the sun is setting just right with hints of a peach color brushed against the sky. Isaac is out for a walk. Genesis 24:63 reads that Isaac “went out to meditate in the field.” The word for meditate is only used here in the Old Testament. It simply means to muse or to talk to oneself in a thoughtful manner. Imagine, out in a field alone, taking a walk and talking to himself. What is on his mind?

This is the first mention of Isaac since Genesis 22. There Isaac was a boy, a teenager. Here in Genesis 24, Isaac is a man, forty years of age (cf. Genesis 25:20). His dad is old, well advanced in years. His mom died three years prior. What is on his mind? We could surmise many things, but most important is that Isaac is thinking.

As Isaac walks, he looks up and sees…camels, ten camels coming his way. When Isaac looks up and sees camels, Rebekah looks up too, and sees Isaac. When Rebekah sees Isaac, she dismounts (literally, falls) from the camel, saying, “Who is that man?” Then when Isaac and Rebekah meet, Isaac brings her home, takes Rebekah to be his wife, “and he loved her” (Genesis 24:66). This is the first time in the Bible it is recorded that a man loved his wife. But this is not a love story.

I want us to keep in mind two things: This is the first mention of Isaac since Genesis 22 and Isaac was thinking.

Abraham Was Thinking Too

It is rather intriguing that the particular word for meditate in Genesis 24:63 only occurs here in the Old Testament. And it is intriguing that it occurs at the end of the chapter. And it is intriguing that it is Isaac doing the thinking. By the way, this is the first time since Genesis 22 that both Abraham and Isaac are mentioned in the same chapter – Abraham at the beginning and Isaac at the ending.

At the beginning of Genesis 24, Abraham was thinking too. The word thinking never occurs, nor is there any word for thinking in those opening verses. But Abraham was thinking. As the chapter opens, we hear the last recorded words of Abraham. And we hear in these last recorded words, what is deepest on his mind: Isaac must have a wife; Isaac must not have a wife from Canaan; and Isaac must not leave Canaan to find a wife.

God never explicitly tells Abraham that Isaac must have a wife and that the wife must not be from Canaan and that Isaac must not leave Canaan to find this wife. So, why is Abraham thinking this way? It is all because of verse seven. This is the key verse to the entire chapter.

As Abraham charges his servant that he will be the one to find a wife for Isaac, the servant rightly asks the most important question. What if she will not return with me? Then Abraham does the remarkable. “The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’”

Isaac must have a wife and this wife must not be from Canaan and Isaac must not leave Canaan to find this wife because of what God said. Abraham has been thinking, meditating upon God’s Word. God had promised offspring to Abraham, offspring that would become a nation; offspring that would number the stars of heaven; offspring that would be as the sand of the seashore (12:2; 15:5; 22:17); offspring that would occupy this particular land. The right woman would not be from this land because it was land with its inhabitants that God would also judge (15:16). God had promised a lot of offspring. And in Abraham’s old age, Abraham is not looking at a nation or numbering stars or counting sand. He has but one child, now a man, a single man. So, what is Abraham holding onto? God’s Word.

Also, the last chapter in which Abraham and Isaac are both mentioned is Genesis 22. It is there that for the very first time the word love is mentioned. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.” And it is also in this chapter that Abraham learns his very last lesson of faith. “The Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:14). In Genesis 24, Abraham is certain of one thing. As he thinks upon God’s Word, he also knows that God will provide.

So, when the servant asks, what if the woman will not return with me, Abraham can say, “God will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.” Why? God has spoken. “To your offspring I will give this land.” And since God has spoken, God will also provide. And since God has spoken and God will provide, God will also make it happen.

I want us to see that the basis of Genesis 24 is that God has spoken; God’s Word. At the beginning of the chapter, in his old age, his well-advanced years, Abraham is meditating upon what God has said. Could it be possible that as Isaac walked in that field, talking to himself, he too is meditating upon what God has said?

He Gazed at Her in Silence

Genesis 24 is long. It is long for one reason: the servant. He heard Genesis 24:1-8. He heard what God had spoken. And then he experienced God’s provision knowing it was God who made it all happen.

He took ten camels, count them, ten (24:10). And he made his way toward Abraham’s homeland. This was a long journey, several hundred miles, and perhaps many months. As he entered his destination, he stops. He is thirsty. The camels are thirsty. And it is evening (24:11). It is at this time that the women of the city come to the communal well to draw water. Knowing that God has spoken, knowing that since God spoke he will provide, and knowing that since God will provide, God will make it happen, the servant prays. “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today [literally, make it happen]” (24:12). And note the word success (KJV – good speed). “And show steadfast love to my master Abraham.”

He then asks, knowing that God must make it happen, if any of this is to happen, that the young woman who gives him a drink of water and offers water to the camels, be the right woman for Isaac. And before he finishes his prayer, perhaps with one eye open and the other closed, he sees Rebekah, beautiful Rebekah make her way up from the well. He asks her for a drink. What does she do, but also offer to water all ten camels! Camels can each drink about thirty gallons of water. All Rebekah has for this arduous task is one bucket!

As she serves the camels, the servant gazes at her in silence. Is this the one God has provided? Is this God making it happen? Is this God fulfilling his word before my very eyes?! Spoiler alert: it is. God is making it happen right here and now.

The servant gives Rebekah a gold nose ring and some bracelets and asks about her family and home. But the astonishing part is that the servant prays. And the most astonishing part of his prayer is verse twenty-seven. “As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsman.” Rebekah then runs. She runs home to tell her family. Her brother comes and checks things out, primarily because he is more interested in wealth than anything. Then the servant is invited to the home where he shares everything – God has spoken. Since God has spoken, God will provide. And since it is God who provides, God is the one who makes it all happen.

This is what Genesis 24 is all about and why it is so long. This servant is in awe of God. It is why he tells and retells all that has happened. He is impressed by and with God. The servant’s witness, his testimony, is that God makes it happen (see Genesis 24:21; 40; 42; 56). And where does this all begin? God’s Word.

What then is here for us? God’s Word contains God’s will. “Once we know the will of God, we can have tremendous confidence that God will use his supernatural power to overcome obstacles for those who aim to do it.” Therefore, if we are to know God’s will, read God’s Word. And when reading God’s Word, think over it and through it and upon it! Meditate! See Joshua 1:8 and note the word prosperous (same as 24:21, 40, 42, 56). Go walk in a field! “If you are not spending much time in meditative study of God’s Word, then probably doing God’s will is not the passion of your life. And if you ever ask the question, ‘what is God’s will?’ you probably get very confused.”[1] As you read, as you study, as you meditate, pray. Pray to the God who will provide. What will he provide? Fulfilling his will. Pray to the God who will make it happen! Then what? Go. Go expectantly. Go obediently. Go with one eye open and the other eye closed. Go looking to know that God has done it!

[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/he-will-send-his-angel-before-you

From the First Day Until Now

There was once a pre-school age boy named Jimmy who told his mom, “I will never, ever be a pastor.” He is now thirty-seven years old and a pastor.

One Sentence for One Year

It is New Year’s Eve. And it is not unlike any other New Year’s Eve. It is the last day of the year and the only day of the year to stay up really late, like maybe ten o’clock. But just about the only part of the end of the year that I really look forward to is the last Sunday of the year. Since 2012, we have set aside the last Sunday of the year to reflect in thanksgiving and wonder and in anticipation.

In 2012, I remember being content for the first time in a really long time until a Wednesday morning in July. I had been serving as an associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Strongsville. My main responsibility at that time was Christian education which included areas like Sunday School, children and youth ministries and even small groups. I remember that it was in the morning. Lisa and I were both getting ready for the day and subtly an email disrupted everything. It was simply a question. “What are your future plans for ministry?”

I was content for the first time in a really long time until that email with that question. As I look back on it, it was the beginning of something, a something that came together on Sunday, December 2, 2012. It was that Sunday when everything got better. It is strange because until that Wednesday in July I had no imagining that things could or needed to get better. But on that particular Sunday I could stand before Calvary Community Church and for the very first time say, “we.” It was the last sentence of the sermon from Luke 1. We hold fast to this: “For no word, sentence, or phrase that comes from the mouth of God will be impossible with Him.” I was your pastor.

Since 2012, we spend the last Sunday of the year in thanksgiving and wonder and in anticipation. And we do this by looking at the coming year through God’s Word. We call it our verse of the year or our verse for the year. This year is different though. This year our verse for the year is Philippians 1:3-5. If you notice, that is more than one verse. It is three verses. So, I guess we could say that we have three verses for the year. But I want us to notice that Philippians 1:3-5, the reason that we have three verses for the year, is actually just one sentence.

And so, what we have before us on this last Sunday of the year is one sentence for one year. I have been wondering, though, how throughout the coming year we might be reminded of this one sentence, the sentence for our year together. Starting January 7, it will be on the front cover of the worship guide. And starting today, we could be encouraged to memorize it, to put it to memory. And maybe then throughout the coming weeks we could spontaneously ask one another, “What is our one sentence for this year?”

So, how will we throughout 2018 be reminded of our verse for the year? It will be on the front cover of the worship guide. We will be, starting today, encouraged to put this one sentence – it is just one sentence – to memory. And starting today, each of us will be encouraged to take it upon ourselves to surprise one another in the coming weeks, and at any time in the coming weeks, with a question. “What is our one sentence for this year?”

But there is more.

From the First Day Until Now

Maybe my favorite part of this sentence comes in the last few words of verse five. “…from the first day until now.” It has been 1,855 days since the first day. It has been five years and four weeks since December 2, 2012. And do you know what continues to be true? I am your pastor. And being your pastor gets better and better and better. For what reason?

Paul writes something at the end of this letter that complements this one sentence for our year. Keep in mind that Paul writes this letter to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and the deacons” (Philippians 1:1b). Keep in mind that Paul writes to the local church in Philippi and makes a special note to include the overseers (elders and pastors) and the deacons.

But toward the end of this letter Paul writes, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1). Just listen to how Paul feels about these people! You are my joy. You are my crown. You are my beloved. And now verse three. “Yes, I ask you also, my true companion.” Just pause there. Notice the word true. This word, true, is only used four times in the New Testament. Paul writes of Timothy, “my true child” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul also writes of Titus, “my true child” (Titus 1:4). It is a word of affection like when we say, “my true love.”

And most interesting is that Paul calls the Philippians, “my true companion.” This word companion (partner, yokefellow) is only ever used here in the New Testament. It is from a word that means to be joined together (cf. Matthew 19:6). It carries with it the idea to be joined together for one purpose.

I wanted us to see the ending of this letter that we not miss the affection that this man had for this church. And it does complement our one sentence for this year. The affection this man had for this church is in this one sentence.

R. C. Sproul made this observation about Philippians 1:3-5. “His love for this congregation was exemplified in his regular prayers for them.” I just find it so intriguing that out of all the letters Paul wrote, this is the only letter which at the beginning he singles out the elders and the deacons.

How might we be reminded of our one sentence for this year? I believe it is more for our pastor than anyone. It has been saying to me all week, after 1,855 days and in the thanksgiving and wonder that it gets better and better and better; and in the anticipation that it will continue to get better and better and better; do not lose your affection for them.

How might our pastor not lose his affection for you? It starts with his regular prayers for you.

Every Prayer of Mine for You All

Philippians 1:3-5 is made up of four parts. The first is Philippians 1:3. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” The word remembrance is a personal remembrance, recalling and thinking about a particular aspect of a person. It is like thinking back or remembering the day when things got better, especially when you never thought about things getting better! And notice what Paul says what happens when you think over the last 1,855 days or from the first day until now – gratitude. Gratitude happens. So, it seems that the first step in a pastor not losing his affection for you is gratitude.

And when does he give thanks? This is Philippians 1:4, the second part of the sentence. “Always in every prayer of mine for you all.” There is gratitude in remembering and it is a gratitude in remembering always in every prayer of mine. Notice that it is every prayer of mine for you all.

How often then is our pastor to pray for us? It is always, or in other words, regularly. We are getting insight into what the regular prayers of our pastor for us looks like. There is gratitude. There is remembrance. A pastor is to remember; remember that first day and remember it until now. Remember the last 1,855 days. Tomorrow it will be to remember the last 1,856 days and in so doing, give thanks. Imagine, every prayer of mine for you all rooted in gratitude.

And a pastor, our pastor, is to pray regularly for us. What is he praying for us? The word prayer here is the word supplication (see Philippians 4:6). It is a felt-need. It is to pray so that we not be lacking. But what I love is that it is a heart-felt petition. Our pastor is to pray for us out of his affection for us. So, again, what is he praying for us?

He prays that there will be no divisions among us. There may be and can be disagreements; this is healthy. But what is not healthy is when disagreements turn into division. He prays too that there will be no regrets. And having no regrets is similar to division. May there be no point at any point when all is said and done, we are no longer speaking to each other. He is praying that there will be unity among us and that we would be striving for this unity. This unity is not that we are always in agreement. This unity is unity when it comes to what really matters; unity that we are in this together; unity to not celebrate lesser things. It is Psalm 86:11. “Teach me Your way, Yahweh, and I will live by Your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear Your name.” It is united to be in awe of God. He is praying that we continually hunger for God’s truth. He is praying that we would see God’s glory and do all things for His glory. He is praying for revival; God’s revival. He is praying for growth. He is praying for God’s will to be done at Calvary Community Church as it is in heaven. Out of his affection for us our pastor prays like this for us.

Because of Your Partnership in the Gospel

Notice the third part of this one sentence. “…making my prayer with joy.” For a pastor to pray like this, just like this with gratitude in remembering all 1,855 days, is to be making prayer with joy. But it is the fourth part of the sentence that I really want to draw our attention. “Because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

You are my joy. You are my crown. You are my true companion. And why? Why does an email mean so much to me after five years? Why does December 2, 2012 mean so much to me after 1,855 days? It is because of our partnership in the gospel together.

What is the gospel? We should be able to articulate the gospel and rehearse the gospel continually with one another. It is something that began in Genesis 3:15. It is something then that the army of heaven proclaimed on Christmas night. It is good news of a great joy. It is Jesus the Christ who is Lord. He put on flesh to get near us. And he died. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried, and he rose again according to the Scriptures. And because of him and in him and through him we live now and forevermore. This is our partnership. And in that partnership, is together to enjoy God. And in that partnership, is together to enjoy one another. And in that partnership, is a mission to see more and more people be filled with this joy.

What will this partnership look like in 2018?

1. It will begin with a youth event this Friday at 7 p.m.

2. It will continue next Sunday morning as we pick up again with Genesis.

3. It will be our first members meeting of the year next Sunday evening at 5 p.m.

4. It will be our Fundamentals of the Faith study beginning Sunday, January 14 at 5 p.m. through April 22.

5. It will be expanding our elders and deacons. And having our elders and deacons loving this congregation exemplified by their regular prayers for us.

6. It will be meeting together to pray each Wednesday at 7 p.m. and each Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

And We Have Seen His Glory

It was Christmas Eve and not unlike any other Christmas Eve. But as I think about it, it was Christmas Eve at 310 West Center Street. And it was late, but not too late. The artificial Christmas tree was visible through the front door. My Dad was sitting in his recliner. My Mom sat comfortably on the couch. And there I was with my sisters sitting on the floor. We were each pretty eager, for the first time all year, to go to bed. Then all suddenly got quiet. My Dad was about to read. He was about to read the good news of a great joy. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Up until this year this has simply been a memory, a Christmas memory. But this year it is different. This year it has become the best Christmas memory. It is because this year I have been watching, really watching. I have been watching my Dad lose his eyesight. And this Christmas as he loses his eyesight I keep thinking about that man in that recliner reading the good news of a great joy. And as he loses his eyesight there is only one thing that really matters.

It is Christmas

It is Christmas Eve and not unlike any other Christmas Eve. And we are about to read. We are about to read just one sentence. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This too is good news of a great joy.

I have never noticed that this one sentence has three parts to it; three exciting parts. Each part is introduced by the word and – and the Word became flesh; and he dwelt among us; and we have seen his glory.

And is a conjunction and it is used to connect words in a sentence or sentences to other sentences. Or, as we see here, it is connecting the parts. Look at the third part of this sentence. “And we have seen his glory.” This part is about sight and is connected to the second part, “and dwelt among us.” The second part of this sentence is about nearness and is connected to the first part, “and the Word became flesh.”

This connecting word is connecting three parts, three exciting parts, to emphasize something. These three parts come together to emphasize the one thing that really matters. What is the one thing that really matters? It is Christmas. And why does that matter? It is about what Christmas means for me.

And the Word Became Flesh

Notice the first part of John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh.” If the third part is connected to the second part with the word and; if the second part is connected to the first part with the word and; if the first part begins with the word and; what is the first part being connected to?

We might think that since and connects words in sentences or sentences to other sentences, that perhaps this first part of John 1:14 is being connected to John 1:13. It could be possible and seems to make sense. Just listen to John 1:13. But to listen to John 1:13, we need to begin with John 1:12, because John 1:12-13 are actually one sentence. “But to all who did receive him.” Pause there and mark that word receive. We will come back to it at the end. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Then John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh.”

It is just interesting that John 1:12-13 talks about us becoming what we once were not. Prior to receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior, believing in him, you and I were not children of God. But upon receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior, believing in him, you I and became children of God. This word became is the same word used in John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh.” It simply means to become something it was not before.

In verse fourteen, John is simply telling us that there is a point in time that the Word became something it was not before. And what is that something? Flesh. There is a point in time that the Word became or put on flesh. This is commonly called the incarnation.

And John wants us to know that it is the Word that put on flesh. Why is that significant? Look further in verse fourteen. In the remainder of this sentence, John begins using the word Son. This is the first time that John uses the word Son and he will use it some sixty times in the rest of his Gospel. But who is the Son?

This is connected to the third part of verse fourteen. But we have to jump to it here quickly. “And we have seen his glory.” Whose glory? Remember each part is connected to the part previously. This is glory of one who dwelt among us and the one who dwelt among us is the Word. So, whose glory is this? It is the glory of the Word. But after the third part, and talking about his glory, John says that it is the glory of the Son. So, which is it? The glory of the Word or the glory of the Son? It is both. It is the glory of the Word and the glory of the Son because the Son is the Word.

This is really exciting and a really long point to make in a much bigger point. But it is significant. The Word became flesh which also means the Son became flesh. The Son became what he was not before; flesh. The Son did not become the Son. This is a point John is trying to make when he reveals that the Son is the Word. It is because of John 1:1-3.

In the beginning was the Word. What beginning? We could say any beginning; the beginning of today; the beginning of the week; the beginning of the month; the beginning of the year; the beginning of you. We could say any beginning, but will not because this is not what John is saying. He is deliberately bringing to mind the beginning. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In that beginning was the Son. He was there. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” So, the Son was in the beginning and the Son was with God. When? In the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was God.” And the Son was God.

This a beautiful picture of the tri-unity of God. He is three persons, yet one God. And in the beginning and before there was a beginning there was this perfect relationship of God the Son and God the Father. And just to be clear John writes John 1:3. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

I love this verse. Still speaking about the Word, the Son, everything that is in the category of made, the Son made it. This is saying two things about the Son. First, anything that is called made or created, he made it. Second, the Son cannot then be called made or created.

This sets up the wonder of John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh!” In talking about the Son, he exists! He has always existed. He is with God the Father. He has always been with God the Father. He is not made. He is not created. He is eternal. He is God. He is God the Son and there is this point in human history that he put on flesh. It is Christmas. But why did he do it?

And Dwelt Among Us

Why did he do it? The full answer to that question is, read the rest of the Gospel of John. Read verses like John 6:51. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Why did he become flesh? It is the second exciting part of John 1:14. “…and dwelt among us.” I love the word dwelt. It literally means tabernacled. The word tabernacle brings to mind the Old Testament. It was a tent, a big, beautiful tent. It was a place of worship. It was a tent the Israelites would carry with them throughout the wilderness. It was a tent that housed the presence of God. And at Christmas, John writes that when the Word became flesh he tabernacled among us. I like John 1:14 read this way: “And the Word became flesh and moved into our neighborhood.”

Why did he do it? Philippians 2:7-8 describes this tabernacle or tent this way: “but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”

Why did he do it? This tabernacle, this tent, this moving into our neighborhood is all meant to emphasize proximity, nearness. The Word became flesh and drew near me. Will you meditate on that for a moment? This is Christmas.

Now ask, why did he do it?

And We Have Seen His Glory

This is the third part. He drew near so that we might see glory. Whose glory? It is the glory of the Son who is God. So, this is the glory of God. And if you want to see the glory of God, you cannot miss Jesus. Glory, what is that? I have heard it described as the radiant beauty of God or all his goodness. We have called glory the infinite worth and infinite beauty and infinite wonder of God. He put on flesh and drew near so that we might see his infinite worth and beauty and wonder. And John writes, “we have seen his glory.” How?

John is an eyewitness. He wrote that he saw with his eyes and heard with his ears and looked upon and touched with his hands God in the flesh. So, he saw his glory. He was an eyewitness. But there were some eyewitnesses like Judas and the Pharisees and the crowds who only wanted more food, who saw him, but did not see glory. Why? Remember John 1:12. “For those who did receive him…” This same word, receive, is used again here in John 1:16.

Keep in mind first, what John says about his glory in verse fourteen. His glory is “full of grace and truth.”

Now verse sixteen. “And from his fullness we have all received [cf. 1:12], grace upon grace.” In the Greek text, this verse does not begin with and, but with for or because. It is explaining how a person can see his glory, how a person who has received him and believed in him and received the right to become a child of God can see his glory. It is explaining how a person who having not seen him in his flesh can still see his glory.

It is for those who are losing their eyesight or just plain losing sight of what really matters. It is my prayer for my Dad as he goes blind. Oh, that he will still see the one thing that matters. And it is my prayer for me and us. The one thing that matters is to continue to see his glory. It is the one thing that matters. It is what Christmas means for me and you and all of us.

How can I see his glory? Notice that John says in verse sixteen that we have received grace upon or in place of another grace. In John 1:17, he tells us what these two graces are, what the grace is that replaced another grace and what grace was replaced. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus said that Moses wrote about him (John 5:46). Moses was a witness to the coming Christ. The law, Genesis and Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy, are a witness, the written words of God. But Jesus is the Word. And with him we see reality (truth) and in that reality, is the heart of God (grace).

How then do we see his glory? 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that the “god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In the gospel, the narrated words and works of Jesus Christ, we see glory! And in John 17:20, Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”

What is their word? Their word includes things like the Gospel of John and Romans and Titus and Ephesians and Philemon. It is through these words that we can see his glory. He put on flesh and drew near that we might see his infinite wonder. There is found reality, it is more real than anything that is called real. And this is Christmas for us, that we might draw near to these words and behold him.