17 January 2010

Joseph's Great Commission

I have been leading a Sunday School Bible study on the life of Joseph. Since the "story" (I prefer "historical account") of Joseph may be too familiar, coat of many colors and all, I have found it much more rewarding to study this by seeking to find gospel parallels.

I'm finding it to be very true that God wrote a story and He tells it over and over again, because it is the best story there is. The relevance of that fact to your life and my life is that God retells the same story in our lives. Paul Miller writes in A Praying Life, "The Father wants to draw us into the story of his Son. He doesn't have a better story to tell, so he keeps retelling it in our lives."

Anyway, while there are many details in the account of Joseph that seem to hint of Christ, one that I found especially interesting is what looks like the Great Commission. After Joseph's relationship with his brothers is restored, he tells them to move to Egypt to be near to him and to enjoy the wealth of the land. He basically tells them that he's got a home for them, that they should go get some more people and bring them there, and he'd provide everything they need for the journey. That sure sounds like Christ's great commission to me. Think Egypt = heaven. Pharaoh = God the Father. Joseph = Jesus. Joseph's brothers = You and I, Christ's brothers (Rom. 8:29). Journey to Egypt = our present lives. Read Genesis 45:16-24 to see what I mean (included below).

I find three significant points:

(1) Abandon your earthly goods for the journey to heaven. Verse 20: "Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours." Joseph tells his family to move to Egypt, where there's everything they could possibly need. So they don't need to carry all their stuff from home. Abandon it! That says to us: Have no concern for your stuff on earth, for the best of heaven is yours. (How does this relate to my last post? Hmmm...)

(2) God will provide all we need in this life to survive the journey to reach heaven. Verse 21, "...gave them provisions for the journey." If you ever played Oregon Trail, you'll have some appreciation for the difficulty of their travels. It's no walk in the park. Then again, neither are our lives. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Nope. God provides all we need.

(3) Love one another on the journey. Verse 24, "Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, 'Do not quarrel on the way.'" The sons of Jacob were notorious for quarreling. They sold Joseph as a slave for goodness' sake. Then again, we are notorious for quarreling too. Our sin put Christ on the cross, for goodness' sake. Joseph's statement parallels what Jesus said to his disciples in John 15:12, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." In reading the quarreling of Joseph's brothers, it seems very petty and immature. That's how we ought to look at our own quarrels. Instead we should seek to love.

The account of Joseph is about redemption. It's got Gospel written all over it.
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Genesis 45:
 16When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, "Joseph’s brothers have come," it pleased Pharaoh and his servants. 17And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Say to your brothers, 'Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, 18and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.' 19And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, 'Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. 20Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.'"
 21The sons of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey. 22To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes. 23To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. 24Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, "Do not quarrel on the way."

God's Good Gifts

On an episode of House, Dr. House is questioned about his beliefs on the afterlife. He responds by saying that he refuses to believe that this life is nothing more than a test.

I've had some trouble countering that attitude. To be honest, I've felt that way for much of my life. Just trying to do all the right things in this life, always looking forward to heaven when I can finally relax. Is this life nothing more than a testing ground to see if I deserve heaven?

As I have posed questions to you on this blog on the seeming urgency conveyed in the New Testament and my emphasis on simple living, in the back of my mind is always this issue. How am I to understand my life right now versus my life to come in heaven? Should I live with utter abandon of this world for the sake of the gospel? How can I deny my desire for happiness right now? Should I suppress those desires until heaven? Are simple pleasures wrong?

I know that some would say that to seek happiness in anything other than God is wrong and will only bring disappointment. While that is mostly true, I think it's a little too simple. I can prove this to you easily. Think of your favorite food. The first thing that comes to my mind is watermelon, strawberries and grapes. Will you honestly say that delicious taste doesn't bring the slightest pleasure to you? Of course it does. But do you then feel all guilty because you found pleasure in something other than God? I'm guessing you don't.

I'm saying that God gives gifts. We are meant to enjoy them. Right here and now. If we ignore them or avoid them, we are in effect throwing them back in God's face. The gifts are always meant to bring us to thankfulness and worship of God, but the gifts themselves are not God.

So while I believe God's greatest gift is Himself, that is not His only gift to us.

I'll expand a bit more soon, attempting to back it up with Bible.