Snapshots: Day 33

Snapshots: Day 33

The Snapshot: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20) What incredible insight the spoilt-brat-cum-savior Joseph now has. Just like Peter: “God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death.” God using the wickedness of man to bring good. You could never have dreamed that up! I sometimes think that this is one of the most powerful reasons to believe – we could never have dreamed this up – Joseph becoming a slave to come the second most powerful man in the Middle East to bring salvation. The death of a ‘man’ on a cross to bring justice to eternity and forgiveness to you and me. No, I never saw that coming – until it did!

Further Consideration: Approaching the end of Genesis, we find ourselves with a revelation from the mouth of Joseph that is without doubt, awe-inspiring. Here is this relatively young man who had been sold as a slave by his brothers, put in prison for fourteen years before being released into a position of immense power. That power means that he could give one order and his brothers would be dead, but he doesn’t, he makes provision for them in Egypt and they settle and grow into a nation.

What is fascinating about this is that Joseph has the wisdom and insight to be able to look back and see that what took place, the Lord had allowed to bring him eventually into this place of power whereby, with the wisdom and revelation of God, he could ensure millions would be saved from starvation. Time and again God had intervened in the sinful affairs of this sinful world – that enslaved and imprisoned Joseph – and blessed him in such a manner that that wisdom and later that revelation would bless him, even as a slave, even in prison, and cause him to be brought out to become ruler. A lesson there surely has to be that God can still bless us in less than ideal circumstances!

But the other side of this, that doesn’t come out at this point, is that there is a future dimension to them being in Egypt. As God has told Abraham, four hundred years (a long time!) would pass before they would leave and return to the land God had given Abram. Here Joseph gave the family grasslands in the north where they could continue to raise their sheep, (even disliked by the Egyptians) and so this grassland acted as a womb in which they would grow and become a nation. They could have left at any time, remembering the promises to Abraham about Canaan, but they didn’t. They settled in this comfortable land until it became less comfortable, but they would have to wait for a few generations to pass before that came about.

A Pause: At this point, at the end of Genesis, we will take a pause. I will be away on vacation for the rest of June and so we will restart this series in the beginning of July


Snapshots: Day 32

Snapshots: Day 32

The Snapshot: “It is finished.”  A vision across time.  Three crosses on a hill, with humans nailing others on to them. The one in the middle started shining brightly but then from every direction darkness hurtled at the one who was light, darkness seeking to obliterate the light. From within me a cry, forgive us, Lord!  A battle for survival. But then as the last glimmer of light vanished under the darkness, there was an immense explosion and light poured forth in every direction and as it poured over me, my chains fell off, failures, disappointments, distress, anxieties, guilt, and shame, and as I looked down at myself I was full of light, transformed and clean. (1 Pet 2:24) Salvation!

Further Consideration: It was approaching Easter and I had a dream, a very vivid one, just as I woke, perhaps more of a vision. It was so clear it seemed appropriate to insert it into these Snapshots of the Bible. In one sense it doesn’t matter where we are in history, or where we are in the Bible, we constantly need reminding that history pivots on this one unique event, the crucifixion of the Son of God.

In shorthand we simply refer to all he did and achieved for us as ‘the Cross’. It is, first, an historical event, noted even in secular history. The details are there in the Gospels: three crosses and on the one in the middle hangs Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He speaks seven times: to ask forgiveness for those doing this (Lk 23:34), to reassure the thief beside him (Luke 23:43), to reassure his mother (Jn 19:26-27), to cry to his Father (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34), to declare thirst (Jn 19:28), to declare it is finished (Jn 19:30) and to commit himself to God (Lk 23:46). These are the recorded facts.

But second, it is a prophetic event, spoken of by the prophets who gave insight into what went on in the spiritual realm (see Psa 22), the powers of darkness attacking him trying to break this ‘perfect sacrifice’ the one without blemish or failure. It was a battle of light over darkness but, the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5)

But then, third, it is a life transforming event. It happens when we come to the end of ourselves and like a drowning man we grasp for whatever straw God offers, and He offers the death of His Son on the Cross. Religious Jews demanded signs, intellectual Greeks demanded logic and wisdom, and the apostle Paul declared, we preach Christ crucified…  the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:23,24) and, I resolved to know nothing … except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2) When we accept the wonder of what happened on the awful day, suddenly He comes in power and we are transformed, our sins forgiven, our lives cleansed, adopted as His sons and made anew. I remind myself of this every day.

Snapshots: Day 31

Snapshots: Day 31

The Snapshot: “Israel loved Joseph more.”  So often we cannot foresee the consequences of our attitudes and our actions, but when we look down from above (Eph 2:6) we see something incredible, the hidden hand of God moving to fulfill His purposes, taking even our folly and using it for good. But for the moment, all is quiet and the drama has not been unfolded and so we do not know what is to come. We think we understand it (Mt 16:22), we think we can handle it (Mt 26:33) but we don’t and we can’t. But that does not deter Him, He knows what He is doing and, before the end, salvation will be poured out to Israel – and to us. Israel, Peter, me, we’re all a bit clueless and have just got to learn to trust Him, for He is not. In the quiet before the storm and in the storm.

Further Consideration: We need to unpack Jacob’s (Israel’s) feelings about Joseph. Jacob had been tricked into marrying both of Laban’s daughters but his love had really only been for Rachel. Then there was the expectation of children. Leah the other wife had four sons, Rachel none. In desperation she gave her servant girl to Jacob, and she bore two sons. Leah joined the competition and gave her servant girl and she bore two sons. Leah then had two more sons and a daughter. There are ten sons and a daughter and only then did Rachel conceive and Joseph was born. Later she gave birth to Benjamin and died in childbirth. It is no wonder, therefore that Joseph, the child of his beloved wife, should have been special to him. So much for the background, but next the consequences.

Because he favored Joseph so much, the other ten brothers hated him. (Gen 37:4) Jacob, with a lack of awareness of the family dynamics, sends Joseph out to the brothers caring for sheep, with the result that they sell Joseph to slave traders, who take him to Egypt and sell him on. Cutting a long story short he is imprisoned for fourteen years but is then released because of his powers to interpret dreams and is eventually made second most important man in Egypt, overseeing the next fourteen years of abundance of harvest and then famine. As a result of this Jacob and his family end up living in Egypt. Four hundred years later they need delivering from slavery – because they stayed on there not having returned home – by a prince-cum-shepherd called Moses, resulting in both an opportunity to clean up a dissolute land (Canaan) while revealing the immense power of God and His good intentions towards what now becomes a nation.

Favoritism may not have been the only factor in bringing all this about, but it was certainly one of them. Who knows what God can achieve despite our bumbling attempts at being good humans?

52. Rebuffed by Blindness

Short Meditations in John 7:  52.  Rebuffed by Blindness

Jn 7:52    They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

There are two aspects to this closing verse. The first is the attitude behind it, and the second is the absence of knowledge that is revealed in it.

First then, the attitude. It is clearly hostile. The ‘They’ must be the other Pharisees (see v.47) who had been chiding the guards who had returned to the Temple without Jesus, but what is interesting is their comment, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?” (v.48) because Nicodemus is one “of the rulers” (see Jn 3:1). Clearly the contact Nicodemus had had with Jesus was still not known. Because it is the Pharisees of Jerusalem who are either part of the Sanhedrin or who simply mix with the rulers, we should not be surprised at their hostility which is seen again and again in the Gospels. The have closed minds because of their defensive outlook in respect of Jesus who had numerous times showed them up for being the hypocrites that they were.

Second, this absence of knowledge, which is strange. You would have thought that these guardians of the Law would have known better – for we have considered this subject of ignorance earlier in studies 41 & 42 where we noted the Isaiah prophecy about a great light coming to Galilee, surely a messianic reference, but they still seem ignorant of it. However note carefully their words: “you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

That speaks about origins. The fact that Jesus had been ministering in Galilee doesn’t mean that is where he came from. No, we know from the Gospels that his parents previously lived in Nazareth and later returned there, but Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, just as the prophets had said. Yes, Jesus had grown up in Nazareth but seems to have used Capernaum as his home base for his ministry around the whole area of Galilee.

Now one suspects that the Pharisees probably knew all this – they would have investigated this troublesome itinerant preacher who had been annoying them for some time. In which case they are splitting hairs, we would say today, being picky about the truth, slightly bending it in fact.

They present to us a challenge about always seeking out and faithfully speaking the truth, and not bending it for our own purposes.  The challenge is, I suggest, first to ensure we are good scholars of the Bible, that we know what we are talking about when defending our faith, as well as knowing what it says about our daily lives.

51. Reasonableness

Short Meditations in John 7:  51.  Reasonableness

Jn 7:51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”  

In the light of yesterday’s notes, I can’t help commenting that good intentions and reasonableness don’t always work! This is not to say that we should use the world’s methods and let go of righteousness, but it is to note that sometimes in the world, our good words fall on deaf ears as we shall see here.

Having acknowledged that, it is not to say that we should never try and present the truth, even when we sense we are not going to get anywhere. In the bigger picture, if we speak truth, the world will never be able to stand before God – as they will have to do one day – and say they didn’t know.

When I look back there have been times when we have leafletted whole areas with the Gospel. There are many people who cannot say, “Nobody told us!” We did. In our small town, with a population of about twelve thousand, there was a time when we put out a comprehensive church bulletin complete with the Gospel once a month for a year. Another time, earlier, a friend and I organised a very simple campaign one year with leaflets and bus posters, “Christmas comes but once a year – thank goodness” which then shared gospel, to about 80 thousand homes, and then the next year, “Put Christ back into Christmas,” to double that number. Each home owner will stand before the Lord one day and have to say, “Well, yes, I picked it up, scanned it and then binned in,” But they were told. It is a bit like the hotel where I am writing this particular study which, like many hotels has had a Bible put in every room by an organisation called the Gideons. The one in my room – that I used this morning – looks almost brand new and I have wondered how many people see it there and ignore it? The point is, they have had the opportunity to read it, and of course there may be the ones and twos who do and, having heard such testimonies, turned to Christ.

But Nicodemus speaks out for the truth which is that the Law required at least two witnesses before an accusation could be heard, but before that the accused needs to be heard and the basis of an accusation made clear but, as we shall soon see, these people weren’t ever bothered to do that, they had their set views and even someone such as a member of the Sanhedrin is not going to change them.

The thought comes – are we so set in our ideas that we are not open to the whole truth that God may wish to present to us? Clear beliefs are one thing but shutting our minds to anything else the Lord might want to teach us is something else.

50. Intervention

Short Meditations in John 7:  50.  Intervention

Jn 7:50  Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked,    

There is something poignant here, it seems to me, great and glorious, but nevertheless poignant. This man, Nicodemus, is going to stand up for what is right in the face of many who are advocating that which would be wrong. He is a man, John shows us in chapter 3 of his Gospel, who had gone to Jesus at night to satisfy his curiosity. He was a Pharisee and a member of the ruling council, the Sanhedrin. But he was an unusual Pharisee because he wanted to talk to Jesus, not to berate him as so many of them did, but he wanted to reassure himself of what he felt was right: “you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (Jn 3:2) This man, Jesus, has come with God’s calling on his life. That’s as far as he could go, but it was a start.

He is also mentioned, the third time, when after Jesus death, he accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus and he brought expensive the ingredients to embalm Jesus.

But here is what strikes me about Nicodemus: in respect of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, “he was one of their own number,” yet one of the few voices raised on behalf of truth. I say truth, because it was not so much on behalf of Jesus as the one he was. He never seems to come quite out into the open for Jesus. Earlier it had been at night he had visited Jesus, and later with Joseph, it had been with an air of secrecy, at least with Joseph “because he feared the Jewish leaders” (Jn 19:38) – and yet Nicodemus is one of those Jewish leaders. Somehow he seems to be straddling two camps – the authorities opposing Jesus and the secret believers in Jerusalem.

Yet, to be fair to him, he is a voice who speaks out for the truth, but yet a voice that is not sufficiently strong that others might have the courage to speak similarly, and so it is a voice that eventually achieves nothing; the opposition is too great.

Failing to speak up for Jesus, or to speak up strongly enough to have impact and change lives and destinies,  is not just the prerogative of the Nicodemus’s or Peter’s of this world – or the other disciples  for that matter – it is something to which many of us are prone. Have I always spoken up when I should have done? I wish. This is one of those things for which the Cross is our only saving way.

But a failure yesterday doesn’t have to mean a failure today. Can we trust afresh that when we speak it will be the Holy Spirit speaking through us? (Mt 10:19,20) May it be so.

49. Blame (2)

Short Meditations in John 7:  49.  Blame (2)

Jn 7:49  No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”  

There is a three-sided attack in this demeaning that we have been considering as the hapless guards return to their masters at the Temple and receive this put-down. We’ve seen the first part of it as they are accused of being deceived by Jesus (and implied within that is ‘what a bunch of gullible idiots you are to have been taken in by him’) and we saw the second part yesterday as they are mentally lined up before the ‘oh so clearly superior leaders of the Pharisees’ (who would never have been duped in such a way).

Now, in a third attack they are aligned with the ignorant common crowd who, from their point of view, know nothing (nothing?) of the law (like we do, implied) and show themselves to be cursed in their ignorance and their tendency to be swayed by any loud-mouthed agitator. It’s not a very nice thing to say, but it confirms my suggestion above –  you gullible idiots, aligning yourselves with the gullible and ignorant and cursed crowd.

I repeat again what I said previously – it is a tactic of the enemy that is used as much today to demoralize and disarm God’s people by making them feel inferior to the intellects of today and suggesting we live in a bygone age of folk tales and myths that ‘wise’ people no longer believe in, only those who hold onto their superstitious nature. We need to see through it and see it for what it is, a deception of the enemy.

There is are two simple answers that this verse can direct us towards, and the first is simply to make sure we DO know the law, or rather do know the whole of the Bible. How few of us, I wonder, know our Bibles sufficiently well as to be able to give a reasoned, coherent answer to those who question or challenge us, how few of us have read widely to know how to come up with answers? Don’t say, well it’s up to our leaders to do that; we are all in the army of God, we are all called to be ready: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. “ (1 Pet 3:15) That is an instruction to the whole church.

The second simple answer to this challenge is to show by our lives that we are not cursed but are blessed. This simply means showing that we live peaceful, harmonious, caring, compassionate, involved lives, lives that stand out like light in the darkness, lives that don’t suffer divorces, don’t have marital breakups or family disorders, lives that show we are some of the best workers to have around, the best people to be with, the most trustworthy, those full of honesty and integrity. These are ways we overcome such attacks. May we be able to do that.