Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, "Lie with me." But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, "See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house." Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, "The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house."
As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, "This is the way your servant treated me," his anger was kindled. And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.
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All Sizzle, No Substance
Tuesday of Advent 2
9 December 2014
Worry transgresses the first commandment. Yes, of course. We should believe that God is in charge and that there is nothing to worry about. When we worry, we are ultimately saying that God can't take care of us. But there are far more destructive kinds of worry than our garden variety worries about money, home, family, and future. The worst kind of worry is the worry that church leaders often exhibit about the church and her future. Church leaders agonize when it appears the church is dying because its adherents are defecting to the world. It is easy to suffer this worry, when all that we read and see shoves into our face the declining membership in Christian churches today. The very leaders of the churches themselves are constantly beating the dead horse of declining membership in the churches. The result of these beatings is that we begin to think we had better do something about this weakness and decline in our church body or congregation. If we would just do something, we could reverse the trend and grow.
This is a far worse idolatry than garden variety worry. This is worry that attributes to God the inability to care for, watch over, and guard His church. He needs us to help Him do that of which we think Him incapable. This kind of worry drives us to try to fix what is not under our control. This kind of worry motivates us to employ the manipulative marketing methodologies of the world to woo the "dying" church back to life. The church's life cannot be created nor maintained by such methods. If we use these methods we will be treating the chaste bride of Christ as though she were an adulterous woman, who can be wooed by the techniques of the procurer. The church will suffer under the signs of death until the Lord who suffered and died returns in glory on the Day of Judgment. We dare not worry her out of those signs into the signs we prefer. We dare not deck her out in the glad rags of the adulterous woman. She is our mother, not our girlfriend.
No matter how much people rave about the latest techniques by which they think they can "grow the church," we must not succumb to them, but faithfully testify to the power of Christ to preserve His church and save His people though the divine Word alone. Such techniques were foisted on God's people as a better way to reach people with the Word, but in such situations, the "better way" finally overcomes the word and the sizzle substitutes for the meat. One of the restaurants near my office is "Ruth's Chris Steak House," which advertises that their steaks arrive at your table on a sizzling 1,200 degree plate. What if they began serving the plate without bringing the steak on it? The sizzle would fail to feed and satisfy the restaurant patron and very soon the restaurant would be empty. I am hearing a great deal from people who are attending Christ-less churches where Christ is not preached for fear of offending the congregants. This is the triumph of sizzle over substance.
The church needs to be committed to preaching Christ and His mercy for sinners, without counting the cost. Will some turn back and no longer walk with Jesus (Jn 6:66)? Yes, but that is God's business, not ours. We should not worry about making God more successful and let God be who He is, under the humble signs of the Word. Let God worry about His church. He can manage it.
"This doctrine (of the cross) is especially necessary at the present time, when we see the pope and his accomplices raving and raging in a cruel manner. Many good and saintly men, together with their wives and children, are being driven into exile, stripped of all their goods, and atrociously slaughtered. Similarly, the Turk is also raging monstrously. Accordingly, we are in the midst of death, and the world is being driven to ruin, but the Lord still lives. Everything belongs to the Creator, who is the almighty Father. Therefore we should have no regard for the size of the calamities and for the power of those who persecute us. Nor should our own dangers or those of our wives and children make us afraid. Thus Joseph does not look at prison, disgrace, death, and the very sad and horrible things that befell him (Gn 45:7). No, he clings to the Word and believes in the almighty Father. What if the Turk or the pope swallow us alive? What are they doing? They are devouring our death, miseries, and tribulations, and are exchanging this calamitous life for eternal life, provided that we believe in the almighty Father.
"But you will say, 'Meanwhile, however, religion is being destroyed.' What will happen then? What of it? Let God rule. Let Him take care of this. The Lord will take care that the church and a holy seed are preserved on earth. Certainly Joseph was sent to the Egyptians, a barbarous and godless nation with no knowledge of God, where there was great danger that his tender soul would be seduced after being imbued with depraved dogmas and superstition. But the outcome bears witness that that very mission and danger was the cause of many blessings. Thus it is possible for God also to preserve some of us to be a nursery for the church when the Turk and the enemies of God have been destroyed. For He allows them to rave and rage so that they may be destroyed and perish. In the meantime, however, the light of the Gospel is gradually being propagated more and more. Only let us keep on believing, teaching, suffering, and dying; for they, too, will have to perish."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 45.5
Lord Jesus, You continue to send Your Word to us, although we have never deserved to hear it. Graciously allow us to trust Your Word alone, that we might not subject Your bride to the cheap and tawdry techniques of the world, which are intended to improve its effectiveness among the people of the world. Send Your Holy Spirit, that those who are encountered by the Word might be brought to faith by its power. Amen.
For Sandy Summers, that the Lord Jesus would be present with her in her weakness and trouble
For Juanita Duffala, that she might receive the gift of healing
For those who are agonizing about preparations for the season of the incarnation, that they might be filled with the joy of God's becoming flesh in Jesus
Art: Annunciation Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, Julius (1818)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014