My Soul Magnifies the Lord

After nearly two hundred fifty years, it has only happened twice – a son following in his father’s footsteps as President of the United States. Rare. But even rarer is to know how the son felt about his father. Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him. The guy who answered the phone said, “I think he can hear you, but hasn’t said anything most of the day. I said, “Dad, I love you, and you’ve been a wonderful father.” And the last words he would ever say on earth were, “I love you, too.” To us, he was close to perfect. But, not totally perfect. His short game was lousy. He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor. The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli. And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us. Finally, every day of his 73 years of marriage, Dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband. He married his sweetheart. He adored her. He laughed and cried with her. He was dedicated to her totally… [Dad] we’re going to miss you. Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever. So, through our tears, let us see the blessings of knowing and loving you — a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have.

These are the good words, the eulogy, George W. Bush shared at his father’s funeral.

Mary’s Earnest Desire to See Elizabeth

Shortly after young teenage Mary heard the greatest news ever proclaimed (cf. Luke 1:26-38) she got up “and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39-40). In Luke 2, after some shepherds hear the greatest news ever proclaimed on the greatest night, they too make haste – earnest desire – seeking to get to a particular somewhere to see a particular someone. And here, first, was young teenage Mary, maybe no older than fourteen years old, who with the same earnest desire sets out on a one hundred mile, three to four day journey to get to a particular somewhere to see a particular someone – it is Elizabeth. And other than being Mary’s relative, who was Elizabeth? She was old, too old. She was barren. And she was experiencing the God of the impossible. She was pregnant. And who was Mary? She was young. She was a virgin. And she, too, was experiencing the God of the impossible. She was pregnant.

And I love Luke 1:40. Mary does not come knocking on Elizabeth’s door, she just lets herself in with an eager, “Elizabeth! E-LIZ-A-BETH!” Now, question. Why did Mary make haste to get to Elizabeth? I think it has something to do with what Mary heard. In Luke 1:36, the angel Gabriel says to Mary, “And behold.” Last week, we were sure to point out that this word behold is a command and literally means to look. “And look Mary! Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” We are not sure how close these two relatives were, but apparently this was breaking news to Mary. Elizabeth who was called barren, who was told by the best medical minds that she was incapable of bearing children was, in her old age, pregnant! And notice where Gabriel then points Mary to look. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). For no word that God has spoken will be impossible. This is really important; Gabriel urges Mary to look, to gaze upon what God has spoken and then ponder the unlimited ability of God. If God can do this, then… So, Mary with earnest desire sets out to get to Elizabeth.

Blessed Are You Among Women

Listen to Luke 1:41. “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” Remember, this is the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. And in this second trimester, this growing baby in Elizabeth’s womb is about twelve inches long, weighing maybe two pounds. He can suck his thumb and make facial expressions. And he can even respond to sounds. When Mary greeted Elizabeth, this twelve inch baby leaped, literally skipped, in his mother’s womb. And it was for joy. Why? There was a growing life, too, in the womb of this young teenage woman. His name is Jesus. He is God in the flesh and he will save his people from their sins.

And I want to point out verse forty-two. Elizabeth, filled with/controlled by the Holy Spirit exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Notice in the next verse what she calls the fruit of Mary’s womb. “…my Lord.” This word Lord is used some twenty-six times in the first two chapters of Luke alone and each time it is always in reference to God. Elizabeth called Jesus her Lord. But I want to highlight the word blessed. Elizabeth says this word twice. It is the word eulogeó, eulogy or good words. Good words will be said about you Mary! Good words will be said about the fruit of your womb! And Elizabeth keeps talking. In verse forty-five she then says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Notice the word blessed. This is not same word as in verse forty-two. It is the same word Jesus uses in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5.

And it is the same word in Revelation 1:3. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” And it does mean happy. It is a word, a happiness, that comes from the benefits of knowing God. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).

Mary is blessed Mary! But why? She believed God’s Word. She believed that God was bringing his plan to completion. I just want us to put it together. No one word that God has spoken will be impossible. Mary believed God’s Word; that God was bringing his plan to completion.

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

Luke 1:46 begins, “And Mary said.” Mary is responding to or answering Elizabeth. She is answering all that Elizabeth just said, but especially the last thing Elizabeth said. You are blessed Mary because you believe that God is completing his plan. And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” And what does that mean? What does it mean to magnify the Lord?

The word that jumps out is magnify. It literally means to enlarge or lengthen. I immediately think of a magnifying glass which can either make small things big or can concentrate the light of the sun and ignite a fire. Microscopes can magnify that which is microscopic, cannot be seen with the human eye and brings it up close. Telescopes can magnify that which is massive and far away so that it is brought near. None of that helps me understand what it means, though, to magnify the Lord.

This is rather important. Consider Mary. She is pregnant. She is a virgin. Soon after, days maybe, hearing the greatest news ever proclaimed, she sets out one hundred miles away to be with her relative and she will be there for three months. There is much in this young teenage girl’s life for which to worry. Being pregnant, alone, is enough to worry. But what about her mom and dad? What about her reputation? What about her town? What will they say and think? What about Joseph, her husband to be? What will he do with what people will think and say? What will he say and think and do? And rather than worry, she sings. She worships. The wonderful Charles Spurgeon shared, “I like, sometimes, to leave off praying and singing, and to sit still, and just gaze upward till my inmost soul has seen my Lord; then I say, ‘He is inexpressively lovely; yea he is altogether lovely.”

It is important to note a few things. First, in these verses God is the only one she magnified. Second, listen to verse forty-seven. “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary calls God my Savior. Only those who are needy and in need of a Savior, call God their Savior. And third, this magnifying is the glad rejoicing of one who knew God intimately as her Savior.

But the big question remains. What does it mean to magnify the Lord? This really helped. It helped to think of those words like this: tell out, my soul, the greatness of God. Her thoughts in this moment got big. She will say in verse forty-nine, “he who is mighty has done great things for me.” But she is thinking bigger than herself, bigger than what all this means for her. She gets it. She gets the big picture, the grand plan.

Mary is Filled With Scripture

Look and listen to Luke 1:47. What does it sound like? “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). Look and listen to Luke 1:48. What does it sound like? “And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant’” (1 Samuel 1:11). Look and listen to Luke 1:49. What does it sound like? “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalm 126:2-3). Look and listen to Luke 1:50. What does it sound like? “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9). Look and listen to Luke 1:51. What does it sound like? “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37). Look and listen to Luke 1:52. What does it sound like? “he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety” (Job 5:11). Look and listen to Luke 1:53. What does it sound like? “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9). Look and listen to Luke 1:54. What does it sound like? “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Psalm 98:3).

These verses, this telling out from the soul the greatness of God, are permeated with Old Testament phrases and language. But look and listen to Luke 1:55. This is what I mean by Mary considering herself and getting the big picture and her place in the big picture. This is all, including Luke 1:5-38, as God spoke to Abraham way back in Genesis. Mary knows, really knows the Bible, all the way back to Genesis. She is telling out that God is helping as he promised and this, forever. God helps as he promised forever.

So, What Does It Mean, to Magnify God?

Mary was filled with Scripture. This fourteen year old girl knew the great truths of God. So, what does it mean to magnify God? It means to know the great truths of God as revealed in the Bible. And the telling out of these great truths means that whatever I am going through is not isolated from what God is doing to accomplish his plan. And his plan is not merely the plan he has for my life. It is to see bigger than that, hence magnify. It is that my life, all of it, is in his plan. And he is bringing his plan to completion.

I have been praying that God would make me experience his presence (Psalm 27:9). God has commanded that we seek his presence. So, how do we do that? It is time. What am I doing with time?

What time am I spending, daily, in God’s Word?

And what am I doing with that time, daily, in God’s Word?

And what am I doing with God’s Word? Am I applying it to my life and how? Am I obeying it gladly?

Each night, before you close your eyes, rehearse in your mind what great truths of God you learned from his Word that day. And in the morning, once awake, rehearse once more what you learned yesterday.

It is these questions, these things that then lead the soul to tell out the greatness of God.

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Mary, Did You Know?

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. And there are great songs to sing – O Holy Night; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. And there are really good songs to sing – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (especially when sung by Mel Tormé). And there are really awful songs to never sing – Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.

Why Luke Wrote Luke’s Gospel

This morning we will be in Luke 1:26-38. We are in Luke 1:26-38 today because it is the most wonderful time of the year; the celebration of the birth of the Savior. We are also in Luke 1:26-38 today because we will be spending the whole month of December in Luke’s Gospel. But we are also in Luke 1:26-38 today because this is where we began six years ago on this very day.

And as we begin today I want to first look at why Luke wrote Luke’s Gospel. R. Kent Hughes, he is one my favorites, shared an old word from a Puritan preacher named William Ames. “Next to the Scriptures, nothing makes a sermon more to pierce than when it comes out of the inward affection of the heart without any affectation [speech designed to impress].”[1]

Luke begins Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:1-4) readily admitting that many before him had undertaken to do what he is doing – a put together narrative of all that had been accomplished. And all that had been accomplished is all about Jesus the Christ. And in addition to the many there were also those who were eyewitness of all that had been accomplished, ministers of the word who then delivered…I love this word delivered. It literally means to give from close beside; or to deliver over with a sense of close personal involvement. But it is with the intent that what is being delivered is to be kept, cared for, guarded as a treasure and used. And Luke says that this, the gospel, has been delivered to us! So then, why did Luke write Luke’s Gospel?

He researched and researched and researched some more, these accomplished things. And he spent a considerable amount of time researching these things. All because it seemed good to him; good to him to put together an orderly account for his friend Theophilus. Luke wrote Luke’s Gospel for his friend…out of the affection of his heart. Luke wanted his friend to have certainty of all the things he had been taught regarding Jesus. What is this certainty? As an historian, Luke helps us and Theophilus to have certainty about the gospel. As a theologian, Luke will touch us and Theophilus with God’s love and grace. As a physician, Luke will help us and Theophilus to love people. And as a musician, Luke will set our hearts and the heart of Theophilus to sing.[2]

The Greatest News Ever Is Proclaimed

And it begins in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. In these first two chapters, there are two songs before Christmas day, one song on Christmas day and one song after Christmas day (which I think indicates that because of Christmas we are to keep on singing). But why is there so much singing as Luke begins Luke’s Gospel? And what is Christmas? I look forward every December to hearing Charlie Brown urgently ask, “Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?!” Why is there so much singing in these first two chapters? It is because of Luke 1:26-38. All the singing happens after these verses. All the singing happens after the greatest news ever is proclaimed.

And it happened in the sixth month (1:26). This will be important later in the passage, but it has much to do with the events of the previous verses. It was in the sixth month that the angel Gabriel was sent from God. Angels have names! And this particular angel, Gabriel, is only mentioned in two books of the Bible. He is mentioned in the book of Daniel. In Daniel, he is sent in response to Daniel’s prayer (cf. Daniel 9:20). And he is mentioned in the book of Luke. In Luke, he is sent in response to Zechariah’s prayer (cf. Luke 1:13). Zechariah was an old man, too old. And his wife Elizabeth was an old woman, too old. There is a reminder here of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife because she was barren (Genesis 25:21). And he prayed a long time for her, twenty years to be exact (Genesis 25:21; 26). Zechariah prayed to the Lord for his wife because she was barren, too. And he prayed a long time for her, too. And so it is interesting the affect that prayer, fervent prayer, had on the greatest news ever proclaimed.

And so Gabriel is sent from God…to a city…of Galilee…named Nazareth…to a virgin…betrothed to a man…whose name was Joseph…of the house of David…And the virgin’s name was Mary (1:26-27). What is the point of these two verses? It is the unexpected. Luke wants us to listen. The greatest news ever proclaimed happened in the unexpected. It happened in Nazareth, a nonplace, a nothing town in the middle of nowhere. It is not even mentioned in the Old Testament. But it had a reputation. “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see’” (John 1:46).  And it happened in a nonplace to a woman. We hear her name – Mary. It is in Luke’s Gospel that we hear the names of women more than any other Gospel. But Mary was not just any woman. She was like most women in her town. Like most women, she was poor. Like most women, she was familiar with the Old Testament because of what she learned at the local synagogue and at home. Like most women, she would one day marry. Like most women, she would be a mom. Like most women, she would never travel far from home. Like most women, she would live the rest of her life in this nothing town in the middle of nowhere. The greatest news ever proclaimed happened here to a woman, a young woman who was most likely not any older than fourteen years old.

And twice in those two verses, Luke wants us to listen. Mary was a virgin.

The Lord is With You

And then Gabriel speaks. “Greetings!” Literally, rejoice! This word is found in Luke’s Gospel more than in any other book in the New Testament. It is almost as if Gabriel cannot contain his joy. He knew this moment would come six months ago, but not knowing when or where or to whom. Keep listening. “Greetings, O favored one.” Circle that word favored. In verse thirty Gabriel will say once more, “Mary, you have found favor with God.” This favor was found. It was not something Mary had earned. But it does say something about this young teenage woman. It says something about how tender her heart was to God. Listen to Isaiah 66:2. “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” This was a young teenage woman who was humble. This was a young teenage woman who was sensitive and serious about sin, her own sin. This was a young teenage girl who listened. She listened to the Bible as the very word of God. God’s word was not a light thing to her.

And note this; finding favor with God is the same thing that was said of Noah. Noah stood out in his wicked generation (Genesis 6:8). Please note that; it was during a time of great difficulty that Noah found favor with God. And listen some more. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” Mark that phrase, that reality – the Lord is with you. This phrase always indicates help, the Lord is your help (Genesis 28:16; Joshua 1:9; Judges 6:12; John 14:16).

And the reason that Gabriel says this about favor and the Lord’s presence with her, is that she is troubled. She is troubled not at the presence of this mighty angel or that this mighty angel is speaking to her. She is trouble at this greeting. This angel is commanding her to rejoice! She is trying to figure out why!

Mary, Behold

Listen to verse thirty one. “And behold.” This is a command and it will come up a second time. Gabriel is telling Mary to look! Look and listen to this news I am about to give you. You will conceive in your womb, Mary. You will bear a son, Mary. And you will give him a name, Mary. Do you know what this sounds like? It sounds like Isaiah 7:14. I wonder how it sounded to Mary. You shall call him Jesus, Mary. The name Jesus means salvation. It is the equivalent of the Old Testament name Joshua – The Lord (Yahweh) saves or the Lord is salvation. In Matthew this name is defined further as “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Now see how great this is; listen to what Gabriel says next. Mary, look and listen. He will be great.

I read a pastor call this one of the greatest angelic understatements ever. Words fail to fill how great Jesus is. And I think it is because the Bible acts a window to display the view of how great he really is. He saves! He saves people from their sins! This month we are reading the last book of the Bible called the Revelation (that is seeing) of Jesus Christ. And the point of Revelation is to see how great Jesus is. See this in Revelation 7:10-11. There is this great multitude that no one could number from every tribe and nation and language with palm branches in their hands crying out with a loud voice to Jesus. “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The angels of heaven hear this and say “AMEN!” And then someone asks who all these people are with the palm branches. In short, these are people who have gone through the greatest difficulty and the greatest trouble. And now listen to Revelation 7:15-17. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” These are people who with absolute certainty know the greatness of Jesus.

Mary, Did You Know?

Now listen to young teenage Mary. She asks in verse thirty-four, “How will this be?” Not, how can this be? It is like she is asking, “God, how will you do this?” What kind of teenager is this? She is asking because she is a virgin in the truest and purest sense. Grammatically, it is written with the sense that what was true is still true. She has never been with a man sexually. She is engaged to be married and is not planning on being with him until she can truly and officially call him her husband on her wedding night. And this greatest news ever proclaimed is not changing her plan or conviction. But she believes this news. It will happen and she seems to think that it will be sooner rather than later. Meaning, too, she is not already pregnant.

And Gabriel explains that this will be all of God. The Holy Spirit will come upon her and overshadow her just as God did with the Tabernacle in the Old Testament (Exodus 40:35). The very presence of God will be in her womb. This child is the God-Man. Jesus is 100% God and he is 100% man. He is God the Son. None is stronger than him. He is a king and no king has been or will be a king longer than him. He is the king forever. And he is holy, none is purer than him. And he is Jesus, none has been more needed than him. And he is great, none is more worthy of our admiration than him. This is Christmas.

Gabriel, Behold

Listen to verse thirty-six. Gabriel again tells Mary to behold, to look. Look at your relative Elizabeth, old Elizabeth, Mary. She is pregnant and in her sixth month. And he says this so that Mary will anchor the rest of her life in this inescapable fact: for nothing will be impossible with God. Or more literally, look and listen to the unlimited ability of God. No word that he has spoken will be impossible. He will surely do it.

Now watch this, it is too awesome. This young teenage woman from a nothing town in the middle of nowhere says to Gabriel, “Now you look.” Gabriel, you behold. Listen to what she says. “I am the servant of the Lord” (1:38). The word servant is a very strong word. The better word here is slave. A servant gives service to someone. A slave gives themselves to someone. She is saying, “Here I am!” (cf. Isaiah 6:8). She is giving her whole life to God. Here is my life! May it be, all of it, according to every word that I have just heard! And this young teenage woman considered herself blessed.

And so I have been praying that my young teenage girls will be this kind of young teenage girl. I have been praying that the little girl in the nursery this morning will be this kind of young teenage girl. HERE I AM! And I have been praying that I will be like Mary. Here I am! And considered blessed. And I have been praying that we would be like Mary together. Here we are!

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth

[2] Ibid.

A Still More Excellent Way

In the middle of Michigan there is that small town of Edmore founded in 1878 by Ed Moore. And in that small town of Edmore there is that farm. And on that farm there is that door. And next to that door there is that rock; a twenty-two pound rock; a twenty-two pound rock from the sky; a twenty-two pound rock that fell from the sky and “made a heck of a noise when it hit” the ground over eighty-years ago. And there that rock sat and sat and sat holding that door open all those years. Just this year it was verified to be what everyone thought it to be; a meteorite. But this year it was also revealed to be so much more than everyone treated it to be. This twenty-two pound doorstop is valued to be worth one hundred thousand dollars.

1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 13 are part of a letter in the Bible written to “the church of God that is in Corinth.” This was a local church just as we are a local church. These three chapters come together as the heart of this letter. And the heart of this letter is about what it means to be a local church. And what it means to be a local church is for our joy.

A Still More Excellent Way

The primary reason for 1 Corinthians 13 is not weddings. The primary reason for 1 Corinthians 13 is not for dating and selecting that one person to stand next to at the wedding. The primary reason for 1 Corinthians 13 is for being a part of a local church. It is something introduced as “a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31b). What is this still more excellent way? It is interesting that this is called a still more excellent way. It gives the impression, and it is true, that all that was said before is an excellent way. But there is still more. And it is with eager anticipation that Paul writes what has been called a gem – 1 Corinthians 13.

All Christians, those who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, are members of the body of Christ, the Church. The moment a person becomes a Christian, the moment you became a Christian, you are placed by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. This is a one time moment called the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And at this very moment, too, you are given at least one spiritual gift. This is something taught here in 1 Corinthians 12, but also in Romans 12:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; and 1 Peter 4:7-11. What is the point of these spiritual gifts? Listen to 1 Corinthians 12:7. I love this so much. It is very helpful in understanding what it means to be a part of a local church. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” To each Christian is given a spiritual gift and it is to show God, to show that God is at work and active among us, and catch this, it is for the common good. This is for the good of people. What people?

This is all best expressed in the local church. And so this chapter helps us understand the wonder and importance and joy of what it means to be a member of a local church. These gifts are for the good of other church members. But there is more. This is visible; it shows God. And it shows God at work and active to the other church members. But Jesus said, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). So the good is also for the looking world that is around us.

But what are these gifts? First, just notice 1 Corinthians 12:6. “It is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” Each gift is empowered by God Himself. These are supernatural gifts. Now back up some more and listen to 1 Corinthians 12:4. “Now there are varieties of gifts.” Notice that word varieties. Some translations have the word different or diversities. The important thing to note is that it is a plural word; the Greek word is a plural word and it is so wonderful. And keep in mind verse seven. Each of us is given a spiritual gift by God. There are varieties of these gifts and these gifts show God active and at work for the good of people. But how? The word varieties answers this question. It is made up of two words. The first word, diá, means to reach across. And the second word, haireó, means to make a personal choice. These gifts are personally picked out and given to Christians by God Himself and it is for others. These varieties of gifts are so that God’s people can reach across to others, as His hand extended.

These varieties of gifts are gifts like wisdom and knowledge and speaking and teaching and serving and exhorting and generosity and leadership and zeal and mercy and encouragement and patience and hospitality and helping and administrating and understanding and… Some gifts are more visible than other gifts. A lot of gifts go unnoticed, but are not to be under appreciated. These kinds of gifts, the less visible gifts, are as important as the more visible gifts. And local church membership then means: God has perfectly positioned you in this local church. God has perfectly positioned you in this local church for better and for worse. God has perfectly positioned you and has perfectly enabled you to serve in this local church. And as if it could not get any better there is still a more excellent way.

The Missing Ingredient

1 Corinthians 13 has been called the missing ingredient. It was the missing ingredient for a church that was getting it wrong. And it is the ingredient to the experience of being a local church getting better and better. It is love. And it is better than what we think.

The chapter first begins with these more visible gifts which can appear to be the better gifts. They appear to be the better gifts because they are visible. And so imagine possessing those gifts. Imagine being able to speak all the known human languages, fluently and perfectly. Imagine being able to speak like an angel. It would be so impressive, but if it is without love I sound like something. Maybe something like a toddler banging on pots and pans (a gong or clanging cymbal). Imagine being able to preach the greatest of sermons all of the time. Every sermon being a home run or even a grand slam every Sunday. Imagine crowds gathering to listen to you expound any passage of Scripture, keeping interest through every minute. And imagine to have the kind of faith that could move mountains from one place to the next (see Mark 11:23). If it is done without love, I am nothing. Imagine if I gave away all that I have, even myself, (see Mark 10:21), but if it is done without love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Imagine, who did do all of that but with love?

What Is This Love?

So, what is this love? In Greek, there are many words for love. There is romantic love and familial love. This is not that kind of love. This is a love, this is too good, that is really defined by God. This Greek word was not a word commonly used or found outside of the Bible. It was not a familiar kind of love. But I love thinking of it in terms of a love that God defines. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It is a love defined by God the Father’s action in sending God the Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, a love that reached out to those that did not deserve it; a love that put the interest of others first; a love that forgave people and started over with them; a love that sacrificed itself for others. It is called agapé love. And this love is the environment that local church membership takes place.

Now listen to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Listen closely and carefully. Love each time here is a noun not a verb. There are verbs, but that is to say that love does things. And these actions are given as something always true, a habitual action. And this means it is to be always true, always found where and when? Love is patient. It has a really long fuse. Love is kind. I love this one. The word kind is the Greek word chréstos. Outside of the local church, with unbelievers, there was a confusion about the title for Jesus, which in Greek is Christos. This title was confused with the word chréstos. So they heard Jesus the kind instead of Jesus the Christ. And in the earliest of local churches, the spectacle of Christian love was so stunning that the outside world called Christians not Christians, but chrestians, “those made up of mildness and kindness.” Love does not boil over with envy. Love is not arrogant. Love is not rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable, touchy. Love is not resentful, does not keep counting all the wrongs of others. Love does not rejoice in those wrongdoings, but instead love rejoices with the truth and in the truth and at the truth. Love bears all things. It covers, protecting like a roof. Love believes the best all of the time. It trusts that motives of others are pure. Loves hopes the best all of the time. It hopes that the motives of others are pure. Love endures all things. It has this tireless capacity to endure despite ingratitude, bad conduct, and problems that come with people and this without complaining or becoming discouraged. When the motives prove to be impure, love bears it all with no resentment.

And listen to verse eight. Love does not fail. It does not fail at all those things listed in verses four through seven.

Does this not sound as if love is talked about as a person? Listen to 1 John 4:8. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” And if I know God I then love. So instead of the word love in those verses, I should be able to put my own name. This is how I am to treat and to be found treating that twenty-two pound rock called the local church.

Paul picks up with those really visible gifts that get romanticized and sought after and thought to be the best (13:8-12). And he says that those things will pass away. All the gifts will pass away. But love, love remains. And the more I looked at and thought about this kind of sacrificial love, I thought, this is too remarkable! It is too hard, impossible even to do! Romans 5:5 tells us that this love, this love that is defined by God has been poured into our hearts so that we can love like this. And this is part of the point; this love is too remarkable! It is to be so different than any love found anywhere else. It truly is to be in comparison more excellent.

Think of a few people in your church. Picture their faces. Now think about the lengths to which Jesus went to bring those specific people to Himself. Think of the whippings He endured so that they could be forgiven. Imagine the way He thought of each of those people as He hung on the cross. No sacrifice was too great; there was nothing He would hold back. He did everything necessary to redeem and heal and transform those specific people. He did the same for you. So ask yourself, who does God want you to pursue? Who could you desire to spend time with more? Jesus went to the ultimate extent for them; why would you hold anything back? Jesus pursued those people from heaven to earth to bring them into his family; what barriers could hold you back from pursuing a deep familial relationship with them? We have experienced the greatest love in the universe. Shouldn’t that profound love flow out of us? And shouldn’t that be enough to shock the world?[1]

And the big question each of us must be asking ourselves is: is this the way I am loving you?

And now listen to how this is for our joy. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:11-12). Right there is a joy filled promise. If we love like this, if we love one another like this, God will abide in us and His love will be perfected in us.

[1] Francis Chan, Letters to the Church, pages 74-75.

We, Though Many, Are One

If I had to do it all over again, there would be one thing to change: I would get married barefoot on the sand of the beach. I would wait there for my barefoot wife so that I could hold her hand. And holding hands we would hear the barefoot pastor ask, “Will you take this woman to be your wife? To have and to hold her from this day forward, for better and for worse; for richer and for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish, till death do you part?” And I would answer as I did eighteen years, three weeks, six days, twenty-two hours, thirty minutes ago, but barefoot looking at her. “I will.”

1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 13 are part of a letter in the Bible written “to the church of God at Corinth.” This was a local church just as we are a local church. These three chapters act what feels like to be the heart of this letter. And the heart of this letter is about what it means to be a local church for better and for worse.

When You Come Together

And so, we need and want to ask two questions. What does it mean to be a local church? And what do we do when it is for the worse?

The heart begins in 1 Corinthians 11:17. “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.” Highlight those words when you come together. In the next few verses, this is something that Paul will continue to draw attention to (v. 17; 18; 20; 33; 34). And there is a reason for it. Believers are to gather together, regularly, with other believers. And when believers gather together it is to hear the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:1-2; Acts 2:42). When believers gather together it is to read the Word of God (1 Timothy 4:13). When believers gather together it is to sing the Word of God (Ephesians 5:18-19). When believers gather together it is to pray (Acts 2:42). When believers gather together it is to fellowship (Acts 2:42; Hebrews 10:25). But what if there is more? What if there is more to the preaching? What if there is more to the reading? What if there is more to the singing? What if there is more to the praying? What if there is more to the fellowship?

In 1 Corinthians 11:17, what does Paul say about the gathering together of this local church? It is not for the better but for the worse. Meaning, our gathering together is to be for the better, getting better and better. But here is a local church whose gathering is for the worse, maybe getting worse. So, how does a church’s gathering get better and better? Or to put it negatively, what does a local church do when its gathering is for the worse, seemingly getting worse?

My first reaction was that when this happens and continues to happen the church should just quit. Stop meeting; if it is truly for the worse, just stop. But there is a problem with that reaction. What could happen? What could happen if a particular church like this one, just quit, no longer gathering together for preaching and reading and singing and prayer and fellowship? What could happen if the members of this church stopped gathering and started gathering in other local churches? Each member would take the worse with them into the next local church. Quitting would fix nothing. And whatever ailed this church would spread to other local churches.

And it is just interesting then that this is not Paul’s instruction to a local church that is getting it wrong. Instead, Paul exhorts these believers to continue gathering together, but get it right. And the place he begins instructing them to get it right and make the gathering for the better so that it keeps getting better is the Lord’s Supper. And it seems from these verses, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, that how we treat the Lord’s Supper affects all else that we do together. And it is because how we treasure the Lord’s Supper reveals how we treasure one another.

But What If There Is More?

But what if there is more? Paul only begins with the Lord’s Supper. He does not end there. His instructing continues on through 1 Corinthians 12. And although the words do not appear, 1 Corinthians 12 is still about when believers gather together, regularly, with other believers. He does not mention preaching. He does not mention reading. He does not mention singing. He does not mention praying. He does not mention fellowship, even though these are all things that are to be happening when a local church gathers. There is something more to all of these things. And what it is, is not separate from those things, but an integral part of those things.

Listen to 1 Corinthians 12:12. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Paul begins with a metaphor of the human body. Notice that it is singular. So, this is one human body. And notice what is true of just one human body. It is composed of many members. And those members include the eyes and the ears and the nose and the hands and the feet and especially, this will be part of Paul’s big point, those parts that are hidden parts like the appendix. It is these hidden parts that are really significant in 1 Corinthians 12. These hidden parts, covered up parts, are parts not given much attention. Their function goes largely unnoticed. But these parts are as important, as significant as the parts that seem we cannot do without. What is something commonly said about the appendix? The body can live without it. The body can function without it. It is a weaker part, but a part perfectly positioned by God. It is there as a protector, to help keep the body healthy.

And so it is with the church. Notice the rest of 1 Corinthians 12:12. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” The body of Christ is a synonym for the Church. And when it comes to the Church, there is one Church, one body, it is composed of many members, perfectly positioned by God in the body for a particular function. The reason is so that the body functions properly. In the next few verses, this is something that Paul will continue to draw attention to (v. 14; 18; 20; 26; 27).

Now listen to verse thirteen. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” This is a one time experience. Paul started with the metaphor, the human body. And then he quickly moved to how that metaphor points us to something that is fundamental and real and a spiritual reality. When a person becomes a Christian by the saving grace of God through faith in Christ alone, when we became Christians, we were immediately placed into the body of Christ, the Church. This is what verse thirteen is talking about. We became a member. We did not simply join a club. We were, rather, joined, we were united to Jesus Christ by the mysterious and powerful working of the Holy Spirit. And when we were connected and united to Christ, we were also united to every other Christian united to Christ. So that there is a most profound and fundamental unity, whether you see it, whether you feel it or not, between every single believer and the Savior, the Lord Jesus, and every single believer and every other believer in the Savior. It is as intimate and profound as the union of diverse members in the anatomy of the human body.

We, Though Many, Are One Body

So, what does it mean to be a member? This is just like asking, what does it mean to be a local church? Keep in mind who it is that Paul is writing 1 Corinthians 12 to. He is writing to the church of God in Corinth, a local church. So, how is 1 Corinthians 12 best expressed? How is it to be seen and felt and experienced? It is to be seen and felt and experienced in a local church by being a member of a local church. It does not mean that we then are disconnected or separated from other local churches. It does mean, though, that as Christians God perfectly positions us in local churches to be the church and to see and experience and feel what it means to be a member.

So, I need to ask and know what it means to be a member. And the answer is that it is glorious. To be a member of a local church is glorious and good. And I think the biblical understanding of this is what makes the regular gathering of believers better and what helps it to keep getting better.

Listen to 1 Corinthians 12:7. It is really important to 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” To each is referring to us, it is referring to believers. Given is referring to gifts, spiritual gifts like discernment and wisdom and encouragement and giving and serving and teaching and exhortation and leadership and zeal and mercy and… The Spirit is referring to God. The same God who hovered over the waters in Genesis 1 and joined in the creation of the universe. Manifestation simply means to show. So gifts are given to each believer to show God. Common good is good that comes to people. Common good is the good that happens in our churches. We see God in the display of these gifts. We see God at work. We see him actively working and in charge. And how does it happen? It happens through people that God has perfectly positioned in each local church!

Some people are eyes and you can only have two eyes. Some people are ears and you can only have two ears. Some people are hands and feet and you can only have two hands and two feet. But who wants to be a foot? Some are the nose and you can only have one nose. And no one can say that since they are not the nose or the foot or the teaching pastor or an elder or a deacon or the worship director, these are very visible parts, that they are not needed. And no one can say since you are not the nose or the foot or the teaching pastor or an elder or a deacon or the worship director, these are very visible parts, that you are not needed (12:14-21). No! What about the plica semilunaris, the third eyelid? It helps with tears. We do not see it help with tears, but it does. And so it is in the church, in the local church. There is someone perfectly gifted and perfectly fitted and perfectly positioned by God to help with tears. How? Through comfort and through prayer and through listening and through notes and… Why is that? “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (12:18; 22; 24-25).

This Is Local Church Membership

We need one another. We need preaching. We need prayer. We need giving (financial, time, attention, etc.). We need greeting. We need acts of grace. We need words of encouragement. We need words of rebuke. We need words of correction. We need insight. We need wisdom. We need discernment. We need big, God glorifying vision. We need big faith. These are gifts given to believers and empowered by the Holy Spirit individually as he wills. And so we need one another.

This is local church membership. It is not merely through weeks, months or years of regular attending. It is, though, by a prayerful and public expression and confirmation of God’s people that this is where God has set me down to serve Him and to serve others. It is by making that public promise, public vow, that for better and for worse, this is where I have been placed. Does the Bible teach this? Yes. It teaches it in Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 and Hebrews 13:7-17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 and 1 Timothy 5:17 and Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2-3. It teaches it here in 1 Corinthians 12. It is a way of knowing commitment. It is a way of knowing who the pastor and elders care for. It is a way of defining who really belongs.

And so, I ask that we pray and think through these things and be in wonder at what it means to be a local church.

Proclaiming the Lord’s Death Until He Comes

Robertson McQuilkin remembered watching Muriel Webendorfer run her  “lovely, artistic fingers” through her “lovely, brown hair.” And as he began to spend more time with her, Robertson discovered Muriel. She was “delightful, smart, and gifted, and just a great lover of people and more fun than you can imagine.” And so on February 14, 1948, Robertson asked Muriel to be his wife. She said yes. Forty-two years and one month later, Robertson would resign as the much loved and respected president of Columbia Bible College with these words:

My dear wife, Muriel, has been in failing mental health for about eight years. So far I have been able to carry both her ever-growing needs and my leadership responsibilities at CBC. But recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her. It is not just ‘discontent.’ She is filled with fear – even terror – that she has lost me and always goes in search of me when I leave home. Then she may be full of anger when she cannot get to me. So it is clear to me that she needs me now, full-time…The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel “in sickness and in health…till death do us part.” So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more; I love Muriel. She is a delight to me – her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continual distressing frustration. I do not have to care for her, I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.[1]

When You Come Together as a Church

This is the second Sunday of the month and on this Sunday we will spend time in a passage that seems to be about the first Sunday of the month. The first Sunday of the month is that Sunday we set apart as the Sunday to observe the Lord’s Supper together. And so it was last Sunday that we were served broken bread and individual cups filled with grape juice and together we remembered and gave thanks and ate and drank.

The Lord’s Supper is given to us in four passages: Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. And notice something rather important; the Gospel of John does not mention the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is the only passage that calls the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Supper. And listen carefully; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is not about the Lord’s Supper.

Listen to 1 Corinthians 11:17. “But in the following instructions I do not commend you.” Pause there and mark two things. First, the following verses are instructions. And we just want to simply ask, instructions for what? Second, notice the word commend. It is a very important word, some translations instead have the word praise. The picture is that of standing up and applauding. 1 Corinthians 11 can be divided in two parts. In the first part, Paul writes to this local church about that which he can applaud them (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). The second part is about that which he cannot applaud them. And we just want to simply ask, what is it?

Keep listening to verse seventeen. “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.” And there it is; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is about when the local church gathers together. Paul will mention this phrase, when you come together, five times (v. 17; 18; 20; 33; 34). He keeps coming back to it, meaning whatever it is he has to say affects every time the church comes together whether it is Sunday morning at 9:30 for prayer or rehearsing the order of worship or Sunday morning at 10 to greet one another or Sunday morning at 10:10 to read God’s Word and sing God’s Word and preach God’s Word or Sunday evenings at 5 or Wednesday evenings at 7 or…This passage is about any time the local church comes together.

So, why does Paul bring up the Lord’s Supper? He first mentions it in verse twenty and it sure seems to be the concern in the rest of the passage. It is because the observance of the Lord’s Supper is to affect everything else we do. The first Sunday affects the second and third and fourth and sometimes fifth Sunday. The Lord’s Supper affects every time we come together. And the reason that Paul cannot applaud the gathering of this church, whenever it gathered, is because they were getting the Lord’s Supper wrong. The Lord’s Supper is one of two ordinances that Jesus gave us, two particular commands that we as a church must be doing. The other ordinance is believer’s baptism. And what I am about to say next applies to both ordinances, but in particular to the Lord’s Supper. Yes, it is a command. We must do this; but there is a delight in doing this that is like Robertson McQuilkin – we get to do this!

The Divisions Among You

And as we walk through these verses we are to see the significance of the Lord’s Supper; the significance of regularly eating the Lord’s Supper; the significance of the Lord’s Supper in the life of a local church, specifically Calvary Community Church.

So, in verse seventeen Paul pointed out that when this particular local church gathered together it was not for the better but for the worse. Meaning, our gathering together is to be for the better. But how does Paul know that their gathering together is for the worse? Listen to verse eighteen. “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part.” Notice the word divisions. Paul uses this word three times in 1 Corinthians. The third time is in 1 Corinthians 12:25, the first indication that 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 12 are to be read and studied and preached together. But the first time Paul uses this word is in 1 Corinthians 1:10. “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” And how does Paul know that their gathering together is for the worse, not the better? Listen to 1 Corinthians 1:11. “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.” Chloe told Paul about these divisions. And Chloe told Paul what was happening on the first Sunday of the month. And notice what she called the divisions: quarreling among one another.

At the Lord’s Supper, some in this church were making this meal their main meal. Somebody was rushing ahead to this table and just devouring the bread leaving others breadless. And then there was somebody taking the cup and guzzling all the juice, enough juice to get drunk (v. 20-22)! Notice Paul’s response: WHAT?! And what he says next has opened my eyes to the significance of the Lord’s Supper.

Do You Despise the Church of God?

It is in verse twenty-two. “Do you despise the church of God?” The church of God is people. The church of God is saved people. The church of God is redeemed by the blood of the Lamb people; these are blood bought people. The church of God is sins forgiven, debt canceled at the cross people. The word despise means to devalue. So, it is like Paul is asking, do you not value the church of God? Do you not value your church? Do you not value the church members? And we want to ask, what does that have to do with the Lord’s Supper? How we treasure the Lord’s Supper has something to do with how we treasure one another. This is the division; the tear in the garment.

And so, here again, Paul asks us, “What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not commend you.” Then in verse twenty-three Paul gives the reason for why he cannot commend them or their gathering. Look at the very first word: for [or because]. So his question, do you value your church, is rooted in the night that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.

Remember, the Gospel of John is the only Gospel that does not mention the Lord’s Supper. Instead, the Gospel of John provides all that happened in that room before the Lord’s Supper and after the Lord’s Supper. This is so remarkable. Before the Lord’s Supper, Jesus got down on his hands and feet and washed the disciples’ feet, including Judas. And after this feet washing, Jesus then said these words: “A new commandment 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” (John 13:34-35).

And then after the meal, right before they left together for the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed these words: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21). Surrounding this meal, the institution of it, is that those who eat this meal together love one another. And that among those who eat this meal, there be a united togetherness. What does that look like?

Why Many of You Are Weak

And so when it comes to this meal which seems to affect everything else we do, we must examine ourselves to make sure we are not partaking in this meal in an “unworthy manner” (11:27-28). How could I, how could we eat this meal in an unworthy manner? The word unworthy means lacking a corresponding value. How I treasure this meal has much to do with how I treasure those whom Jesus has bought with his blood. Francis Chan shared what characterized the earliest Christians when they gathered together: devoted. They were devoted to Bible teaching. They were devoted to fellowship. They were devoted to prayer. They were devoted to the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42). And soon thereafter those same Christians would endure together intense persecution. “Imagine sitting around a table and sharing a meal with the few people who shared their mission and beliefs. Imagine sitting around a table and sharing a meal with people who loved you unconditionally and whose lives had changed in the same way as yours. As you gather, you can’t help but remember those who used to sit at the table with you but were killed for proclaiming his death. Some who gather with you have injuries and scars from the persecution. You break the bread and eat it, remembering that Jesus had broken His body so you could find life in Him. Imagine drinking the cup with these fellow believers as you recall how His blood was shed. He did this for you so you could be cleansed and forgiven of all your sins. Can you see how powerful this experience would have been for the church every time they gathered?”[2]

This church was doing this in an unworthy manner. How? They were not connecting the value of Jesus’ death with their valuing of one another. Notice what Paul shares about this, how serious it is, in verses twenty-nine and thirty. “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” And is this why, in part, there are ineffective churches, dying churches, lacking power churches? Does it have something to do with the significance of the Lord’s Supper in the life of a local church?

Proclaiming the Lord’s Death Until He Comes

What happens when we treasure the Lord’s Supper treasuring one another? “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We preach to one another! And we prepare for the meal together by first preaching the significance of this meal to ourselves! And what are we preaching to one another at this meal? “As you travel, dear brother, dear sister, as you travel along the dusty path of Christian obedience, as you walk up your pilgrimage in service to your Redeemer and you feel yourself weary, remember, Jesus is enough. Jesus is enough. He’s coming soon! Trust Him and press on! One day He will come and a better banqueting table will be spread before us! And there we will be with Him at last, face to face with our Savior, eating and drinking to the joy of our hearts and our everlasting delight! Christ is enough, so press on, dear brother, dear sister. Press on. Keep going. He will sustain you. Look to Him.”[3]

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, pages 33-34.

[2] Francis Chan, Letters to the Church, pages 60-61.

[3] J. Ligon Duncan, sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

But God Meant It For Good

These are the generations of Jacob: Reuben. Simeon. Levi. And Judah. Dan. Naphtali. Gad. And Asher. Issachar. And Zebulun. Joseph. And Benjamin.

Genesis 50, the final chapter of Genesis, may be viewed in three parts: the beginning (50:1-14); the middle (50:15-21); and the end (50:22-26). And these generations of Jacob – these twelve brothers – are in each part. In the beginning, these twelve brothers returned to Egypt together. In the middle, these twelve brothers were in Egypt together. And in the end, these twelve brothers remained in Egypt together. The big question is, why?

None Like These Brothers

There have been many brothers throughout Genesis, but none like these brothers. There were Ishmael and Isaac. When their dad died, these two brothers buried him together and then went their separate ways, never to see each other again (Genesis 25:9). There were Esau and Jacob. When their dad died, these two brothers buried him together and then went their separate ways, never to see each other again (Genesis 35:29). But not these twelve brothers. No, when their dad died, these twelve brothers buried him together and then went their separate ways, only to see each other again.

Each brother is back in Egypt. Joseph at his house, probably the second largest house in all of Egypt, and his brothers are each in their tent on their ranch just outside the city limits. Perhaps on a clear day, Joseph’s house can be seen from here. Some time has apparently passed and it has been a while since anyone has seen Joseph. Come to think of it, no one has seen Joseph since dad died. And he was rather quiet on the return to Egypt. Listen then to verse fifteen. “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’”

What reason would these brothers have to think this way? Could it be that they remembered the story of Esau and Jacob? Esau hated Jacob and planned to kill his brother but not until their dad died (27:41). And so, they send a note to their brother. “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” (50:16-17).

Why do the brothers send a note? It is the note that does all the talking. And Joseph hears every word and at the sound of every word Joseph weeps! Joseph is just about the only man in Genesis who cries and most of his tears are at the sound and sight of his brothers. Listen to the English Standard translation of verse seventeen. “Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” Joseph heard his brothers’ voices in this note. And as he wept, it is audible almost like a wailing, he looked up and there was each brother, all eleven, kneeling in his living room before him. Why do the brothers send a note and why does Joseph weep at the note? Fear. The brothers out of fear send this note to their brother; afraid that all Joseph has done since Genesis 42 was motivated by affection for dad, not out of any real affection for them.

Is the note real? I mean, why the note now? It seems too good to be true, too convenient. And did Jacob really say this to these eleven, well, really ten sons? There are only two records of Jacob giving a command to his sons before he died. The first was to Joseph alone. “Do not bury me in Egypt” (Genesis 47:29). And the second time was to all of his twelve sons together. “Bury me with my fathers” (Genesis 49:29). So, was there a third time, a private moment with these particular brothers, no Joseph, that Jacob commanded his sons? Maybe. It sounds good, but seems suspect. But there is something good about it.

Behold, We Are Your Servants

Whether truly genuine or not, there is a glimpse into the heart of these brothers. There is a glimpse that these brothers recognized something.

At the end of verse eighteen, the brothers bowed themselves before Joseph and present themselves as their brother’s servants. Bowing is an act of humility. Now think of it; these brothers are seeking forgiveness for something that they did nearly forty years ago! And what did these brothers do? Keep in mind Benjamin is there too and he had no part of the plan to kill Joseph. Neither was Benjamin a part of selling Joseph, accepting actual money, into slavery. But he is there, too, bowing. And what did these brothers do? Listen closely to Genesis 50:17. “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” It is important to see that these brothers called what they did not a mistake; not a failure; not an accident; not an error or lapse in judgment; not a disorder or disease or…but a break, a breaking of trust. The brothers called it sin. The brothers called it evil.

And the Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And the Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And the Bible says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land” (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Isaiah 1:18-19). And the Bible says this to who?

But God Meant It For Good

In Genesis 50:19-21, Joseph responds to his brothers. And let’s not forget his tears. This is not an unmoved, stoic man. And his response is summed in the last few words of verse twenty-one. “Thus he comforted them.” So, all that he said in verses nineteen through twenty-one was to comfort them. And his comfort for them are these words: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear.”

Twice he tells his brothers to not fear. Why? The brothers intended evil against Joseph, but God intended it for good. And circle that word good. This is a part of the section of Genesis called the generations or account of Jacob. There are eleven of these sections in Genesis; each begin with the words the generations or account of… The very first section is called the generations or account of the heavens and the earth when they were created (Genesis 2:4). This includes both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. What did God say about the creation of the heavens and the earth? God looked at what he had just created and saw that it was good. And what then is Genesis 3 all about? It is about Adam and his wife and transgression and sin and evil that they did. Sin broke what was good. Sin always breaks what is good. But be sure to listen to this; in Genesis 3 in the midst of what the serpent intended for evil and what Adam intended for evil and what Eve intended for evil, God surprises all three with the hope of the Savior. This has been called the first pronouncement of the gospel, also known as good news (Genesis 3:15).

And when Genesis closes there is this final word from Joseph for his brothers, words of comfort, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good;” meaning, since Genesis 3, not just in the life of Joseph, but including the life of Joseph, God in all of his dealings, all of his workings, has been continuing to bring about his good plan.

Now keeping watching closely. God meant it, meaning what these brothers did to Joseph, for good, but good for whom? Listen to all of verse twenty. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Who was it good for? Joseph is not saying that it was good for him, although it was pretty good for him – he is the second most powerful man in the world. But what does Joseph say? Remember back to Genesis 45:5-11. He told his brothers to not be angry with themselves for what they did to Joseph. They did not send Joseph to Egypt, God did. In other words, God was in control the whole time! But keep listening to Genesis 50:20. Who was it good for? It was good for many people, that many people should kept alive, as they are today. So, the good was for those who were living today! The good was to keep many people alive. Keep this in mind; this evil the brothers did was something the brothers did forty years ago. But what they did forty years ago was for a good forty years later. Is that not amazing? But it gets better. Who in particular was alive today because of Joseph? These eleven brothers, ten of whom intended evil. Wow.

It reminds of Acts 2; a sermon. It takes place some fifty days after the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And fifty days later, Peter preaches to those who at the cross were yelling crucify him, crucify him! And the heart of his message is this: you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. What is the good? To give you new life. And the beauty and wonder of that message is on that day those who yelled the most awful things about and to Jesus, on this day said, what can we do to get this new life? The Bible says, repent. Call sin what it is and believe Jesus for who he is and all that he is to be for you and get saved (Acts 2:14-41). At that message, three thousand people were given new life.

There Is So Much For Us

The end, the third part of Genesis 50 is Joseph on his death bed. And he is with his brothers. And with his brothers he commands them to look forward to the day when God will surely visit them (this would be in about 400 years). God is coming for his people, to take them to his promised land. And Joseph has his brothers promise to carry his bones out of Egypt to that promised land on that day. The writer of Hebrews observes that out of Joseph’s entire life, this was the moment he really shined. He said these things by faith (Hebrews 11:22). He was looking forward to the reality to come and in a sense he tasted it now.

And as Genesis concludes, there is so much for us! It is to be like these brothers. How so?

1. Be fighting sin daily. Romans 8:12-13 puts it like this: “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” How do you fight sin daily? You do not fight sin daily by yourself. The way it is worded here is to put sin to death, that is, kill it. So, you do not kill sin all by yourself. Are you saved? If you are saved you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you and so by his supernatural power you kill sin daily by calling sin what it is; sin and by saying no to it.

2. Have a goodward perspective daily. Romans 8:12-39 is the commentary on Genesis 50. And Romans 8:28 is the commentary on Genesis 50:20. Listen to Genesis Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The goodward perspective is this: in any of the unpleasant and undesirable things we endure, God indeed intends it for good, but sometimes that good is not for us. Sometimes that good is for others. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

 

And listen to those first few words of Romans 8:28. “And we know….” We can know this! How can we know this? This is part of that goodward perspective. How can we know? “As long as the cross stands in history, no one who knows its meaning will be able to pronounce a limitation on God’s providence.”

And Joseph Returned to Egypt with His Brothers

If you struggle with depression, I would tell you to see the doctor. If you want to be married or do not want to be married; if you are married or not married or no longer want to be married, I would tell you to see the doctor. And if you just need some good news, I would tell you to see the doctor. His name, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a distinguished medical doctor, but also much more. He was a preacher…who did not live for preaching.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones died on March 1, 1981. Two days before his death, with trembling hand, he wrote this note for his wife and children: “Do not pray for healing. Do not hold me back from the glory;” that is what he called heaven – the glory.

Jacob died on day 53,655. Days before his death, with trembling voice, he gave this note to his children: “Do not bury me in Egypt.”

Genesis 50 could be viewed in three parts. There is the beginning (50:1-14). There is the middle (50:15-21). And there is the end (50:22-26). Both the beginning and the end share the very same big idea. In the beginning, Jacob’s sons do not bury their father in Egypt. At the end, Jacob’s sons do bury their brother Joseph in Egypt. And there is a reason.

After Jacob Blessed His Twelve Sons

After Jacob blessed his twelve sons – and the sense is that this was immediate – Jacob commanded his twelve sons. This is Genesis 49:29-32, something we spent nearly no time on last week. And in this command, Jacob used the word bury five times and then drew his last breath and died. These are his last words; so concerned with his burial! Note that; he is more concerned about his burial than his funeral. I have no reason to, but I have thought a little bit about my funeral, more so than my burial. I know that I do not want to be there for my funeral, meaning, no casket and no shell of what is left behind. And no pictures; just the reading of God’s Word; the singing of God’s Word, especially It is Well with My Soul and Behold Our God; and the preaching of God’s Word.

But here, Jacob was especially concerned with his burial, it is not the first time, just the last time. The first time was just a couple of chapters ago, in a moment between Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 47:29-31). After which, Jacob bowed in worship. So, there is something sacred about this burial. Jacob is to be buried with his fathers. Jacob is to be buried in that cave in that field that Abraham bought way back in Genesis 23. Jacob is to be buried in that cave in that field where Abraham and Sarah are buried and Isaac and Rebekah are buried and where Leah, Jacob’s wife is buried. And Jacob is to be buried in that cave in that field in the land of Canaan. And what is the land of Canaan? It is the land, land that God has promised to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob, to give to their offspring, but not until their offspring spent four hundred years in a land not called home (Genesis 12:1-9; 15:1-16). And then Jacob drew his feet into his bed, breathed his last and died.

The Affection of a Son for His Father

Then Genesis 50 begins. Joseph fell on his father’s face. Remember, when Joseph first saw his father after years of not seeing his father, he ran to him and fell on his neck and wept for a good while (46:29). And remember, God promised that Joseph would be the one who at the end would close Jacob’s eyes (46:4). Here, Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And it just spoke to me the affection of this son for his father.

It is interesting that of these thirteen men – Jacob and his twelve sons – Joseph is the only one in this record who has shed tears. He has shed tears for his brothers like three times and he has shed tears for his dad. And he has kissed each one of them. It is something I had not really noticed or appreciated until his father died, but in these closing chapters the affection of Joseph has really been brought forth. And I think what we are seeing with Joseph is the affections God had for him affecting his affections for others. And where did he learn the affections God had for him? It was not in the favor his earthly father had for him. It was not in getting a brand new and glorious robe. It was not in his success in Egypt. It was, though, through difficulty and discouragement and at the border of despair. He learned the affections God had for him in the pit and in the pit again (the prison).

And Joseph Commanded His Servants

And now watch closely verse two and verse three and verse four. Joseph commanded his servants to embalm his father. What kind of servants? These are Egyptian servants. These are Egyptian doctors. It is really interesting that Joseph does not have nor does he allow the Egyptian priests to embalm his father. Remember, Joseph’s father-in-law was the Egyptian priest. It is as if he is purposely avoiding any false religious practice with preparing his father’s body for burial. This particular embalming practice took forty days. But notice the last part of verse three. The Egyptians wept for him, presumably Jacob, for seventy days. This was two days shy of the required mourning for the death of a pharaoh. It shows the high regard the Egyptians had for both Joseph and Jacob.

Then comes verse four. When the days of weeping past, this was almost two and a half months, Joseph sought to speak with Pharaoh. This is very important to not miss. He only speaks to the household of Pharaoh. Perhaps it is because he is in no condition to rightly stand before Pharaoh. But he sought Pharaoh’s permission to leave Egypt. Please pay attention to that. It is to fulfill his father’s will that he be buried in the land of Canaan. But just note, Joseph sought Pharaoh’s permission to leave Egypt for the promised land. And Pharaoh responded, “You may go” (50:4-6).

Now watch closely Genesis 50:7-9. Joseph went up to bury his father. And so did all the servants of Pharaoh. And so did all elders of Pharaoh’s household. And so did all the elders of the land of Egypt. And so did all of Joseph’s brothers. And so did all of Jacob’s household. And so did Egyptian chariots and Egyptian horsemen. The point is that this was a very great company of both Egyptians and Israelites heading out of Egypt for the promised land.

Highlight the last part of verse eight. There were three groups that did not make this trip this time. The grandchildren of Jacob and the flocks of Jacob and the herds of Jacob stayed behind, this time. This all foreshadows the book of Exodus. Exodus will be four hundred years later. And then, the descendants of Jacob called the nation of Israel will get out of Egypt. Moses, a one time most powerful man of Egypt, will seek Pharaoh’s permission to lead Israel out of Egypt. And when Israel does leave Egypt, it will be a very great company leaving Egypt, this time including their children and their flocks and their herds. And when Israel does leave Egypt, the Egyptians with their chariots and their horsemen will oppose them (Exodus 10-14). Now this is interesting; in Genesis 50:11-14, Moses gives a hint to the route that Joseph and his brothers took getting to the promised land. It was the long way, very similar to the route in Exodus; the long way.

And Joseph Returned to Egypt with His Brothers

But really pay attention to verse fourteen. It is the verse that grabbed my attention. “After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers.” Prior to burying their father, the whole company including the Egyptians stopped to mourn together for seven days. There was weeping and wailing, so much so that those living in Canaan came out to see what this noise was and said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” And then Jacob’s children went up by themselves to the cave and buried their father. But they returned together to Egypt. I wondered for a few days why it was that Moses would include that detail. Would it not be a given? I mean, they left their children and their flocks and their herds in Egypt.

Why did Joseph return to Egypt with his brothers? It was with his brothers. This was the first time Joseph had been back home in decades. How hard was it to leave? Perhaps it was not too difficult; perhaps it no longer felt like home. When he first left for Egypt it was against his will. And when he first left for Egypt it was by his own brothers’ hands. And they stood there watching the caravan carry their brother away until it disappeared over the horizon. The brothers though have made this trip to Egypt several times. The difference this time is that the twelve brothers, the twelve tribes of Israel are returning to Egypt together. So, what is the point?

Listen to Genesis 50:13. “…his sons carried him to the land of Canaan.” And then listen to Genesis 50:25. “Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.’” When will Joseph’s bones be carried up out of Egypt? The exodus. And here then is the reason that the beginning of Genesis 50 and the ending of Genesis 50 both concern burial, the burial of Jacob and then the burial of Joseph. And it is why Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt. Burying Jacob was a rehearsal for the exodus. These brothers returned to Egypt by faith. They walked back to Egypt not by sight. They returned to Egypt together holding fast to God’s promise of Genesis 15:13-16. The famine was over, it had been over for a long time. There was an argument to be made to stay home and not return to Egypt. But no one mentioned it. Each went back to Egypt to wait. It was there that they would wait and wait and wait for God’s salvation. They were going back to prosperity and favor. But the generations to come would lose that prosperity and favor. These brothers were not allowing their circumstances to dictate their faith. They would wait and generations to come would wait. There would be oppression. There would be difficulty. There would be suffering but there God would perform his wonders. There in the fiery furnace of Egypt, God would fashion a people for his own possession. I marvel that these twelve men went back to Egypt.

There will be difficulty to come; there will be trials; there will be reason to grow dismayed; there will be circumstances that will exhaust patience and will try endurance…for us. And I have been praying for us, differently than I think I ever have before. I want us happy and joyful and that is not to say that we are not happy and joyful. But there are moments, here and there, when I get concerned. I wonder what will happen when we are not so happy. And I wondered how did those men go back to Egypt knowing that God promised centuries of difficulty? Here I am, fretting a little bit about even just one period of difficulty as a church. So, how do you go back to Egypt, how do you lead a people to go back to Egypt where presently everything is fine, but know that there will be times of trial to come?

I talked to our Father about it. And I wrote down five things that I have been praying now for four days. I have been praying that we would pray. Jesus said that his father’s house is to be a house of prayer (Matthew 21:13). I have been praying that we would love…God’s Word. I have been praying that we would love…one another. I have been praying that we would love…those who are outside. And I have been praying that we would love…God.

And it seems to me that if I do those things, if we do those things, we can go back to Egypt.