Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, "Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them." And he said to him, "Here I am." So he said to him, "Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word." So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, "What are you seeking?" "I am seeking my brothers," he said. "Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock." And the man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.'" So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.
They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams." But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life." And Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; cast him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him" - that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and cast him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. (ESV)
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The Theology of the Gospel
Monday of Advent 1
1 December 2014
One of my daughter's old boyfriends pulled off a big surprise by arriving on her college campus without her knowing he was coming. When he arrived on the campus later on a Friday evening, he called her phone and remarked that the stars were beautiful that night where he was. He suggested that if she went out of the dorm to look into the sky, they could look at the same stars together. When she stepped out of the door of the dormitory, her boyfriend was standing right there talking to her on the phone. Needless to say she was deeply shocked. She thought he was hours away in another city. In reality, when she felt most separated from him, he was actually closest.
We live like my daughter thinking that God is far from us, especially when we suffer afflictions and trials. We presume that God could not be gracious toward us. If He truly loved us, these things would not be happening to us. He often hides Himself in our suffering and trials. That is His way. Has he not cloaked His own precious Son, begotten from eternity, in human flesh? Hidden this way, He offered Himself into the hands of those who hated Him, that they might slay Him on the cross, in our place. He did not judge according to sight. He saw the casual brutality of the Roman legionaries who tended the execution ground. He did not judge according to what he heard, because he was cursed by those who ought to have trusted Him as their Lord. Even the malefactor who died next to Him cursed Him. He did not judge by what He felt even in the midst of the cry of dereliction. He who was abandoned by His Father for us, refused to believe that He had been abandoned by His Father. He who felt this to His very core, refused to believe what He felt. Isaiah says of Him: "Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities" (Is 53:11). Even in His excruciating anguish He sees the goal of His work: the acquittal of sinners.
This is the theology of the gospel, which is the theology of the cross and the theology of the promises. This theology turns us outside of ourselves, our feelings, our trials, our sufferings, and places us in Christ. Therefore, because of the promises of our salvation made sure in Christ, we dare not judge our status in God's sight on the basis of what we see. We cannot know how God feels about us on the basis of our feeling about ourselves, or anybody else's. We cannot know the speech of God, except by listening to the gospel which trumps every accusation, whether human or divine. No curse remains against us, for He has taken the whole curse into Himself. He promises. This is the theology of the gospel.
"In every work and thought, particularly in sufferings, when Christians are afflicted, if you are a believer, you are not able to judge about your life and actions. Otherwise you will err. You are mute, foolish, tried, and a captive; and you can neither speak nor judge correctly concerning your affairs. It is written: 'Wait for the Lord' (Ps 27:14), and do not be offended, murmur or despair. For you do not give the right name to your works or afflictions. Your judgment is false. Your speech is wrong. Your wisdom is foolish. However, it is the will of God that the old man should be destroyed and the flesh put to death; but while it is being destroyed and killed, it speaks falsehoods and makes foolish judgments.
"In this manner God allows Joseph to be crucified, cast into prison, and to suffer reproach, which is simply to be destroyed, removed, wiped out. For all these things do not happen otherwise in the world. But before God that same suffering is to send him for salvation.
"This way of speaking is peculiar to and customary for God. Moses does not speak in this way. Nor do the lawyers and the philosophers. But it is a theology of promises; they are words of God, who makes promises which He causes to resound among His angels in heaven. We, however, do not understand them until His counsels are completed. For this reason the counsel of the Lord is praised so often in the prophets. In Ps 107:11 it says, 'they spurned the counsel of the most High.'
"Therefore, these matters must be taught for our instruction, in order that we may know what the theology of the Gospel is."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 45.6
Lord Christ, keep me in the theology of Your promises. Help me not to become a slave to my fears, suffering, and anguish. Turn me out of myself to see only You and always You. Amen.
For all young children who have been abandoned by their parents, that they might be received into loving Christian families
For Paul Lodholz, that he might be strengthened in body and mind
For the family of Simon Makangula, who was bereft of his brother, Michael, that they would grieve as those who have hope in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
For families where husband and wife are experiencing conflict, that the peace of God might extend over their homes
Art: Annunciation Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, Julius (1818)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014