Click to hear the Issues, Etc. discussion of this week’s Sunday School lesson with Deaconess Pam Nielsen.
This week we enter into the story of God’s redemption of Israel from out of the bondage of slavery into which it had fallen in the land of Egypt. God planted Joseph in Egypt to preserve his family. In the great famine that plagued the world for seven (7) years, all people were drawn to the land of Egypt, and to Joseph who was placed in charge of the land by Pharaoh working as God’s chosen instrument. God used Pharaoh in this way to make Himself known to Joseph’s family, especially his brothers. God once again uses Pharaoh to make Himself known. This time, however, it is to reveal Himself by His name, יהוה (yhwh) to all the world. For He is the God who kills to and makes alive, He wounds and heals. He is the one and only God, beside Him there is no other in all the world. Deuteronomy 32:39. And in using Pharaoh, God hardens his heart, that is God gives him courage and strength in opposition to Moses’ request. Exodus 9 tells of the plague of boils, oozing, horrible sores that afflicted man and beast throughout the land of Egypt. Until now, it was Pharaoh who had changed his mind, becoming more and more resolved not to let Israel go. Yet this time, the plague of boils affects even Pharaoh. The text does not tell us if he actually received the sores. It does tell us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not that Pharaoh hardened his own. The plague must have touched Pharaoh in some way to at least cause him to waver a bit. Yet God would have none of it. He would make his NAME known in all the world, that there is one God and one God only, and He would make it know through these slaves in the land of Egypt.
This is a strange work, foreign to the nature of God. To think that He would actually turn someone against His divine Will in order to reveal His name and who He is to the world. And yet, to make us alive, God must first kill us. Death and sin and killing were caused by man’s rejection of the Word of God, by our disobedience to His command. So God hardening the heart of Pharaoh should not seem so difficult to grasp. For He uses man as He is, sinful, opposed to God, and gives him over to his own sinfulness to wallow in it. See Romans 1. Sometimes God acts with us as He does with Pharaoh, hardening his heart even more than Pharaoh had done for himself. In our stubbornness, we refuse to heed His Word, rejecting it and steeling our hearts and minds in opposition to it. For we want to be in control of our own destiny, our own lives. God uses this stubbornness and opposition against us, gives us over to it. Sin is heaped upon sin until man is broken despairs of his own ability. And yet, all the while, God is at work using His Word to turn us to Him, to bring us to our knees in solemn repentance, begging for mercy, for forgiveness.
Sometimes it takes extreme measures to get our attention as in the case of Pharaoh. It shocks our consciences and senses to think that a good and gracious God would give us over to evil and to our own sin. It does not comport with our darkened sense of goodness and justice. And yet, because of our sin that has turned us completely away from Him, God works on us in ways that are strange and alien to His nature and to who He is. To we who are dead in trespasses and sin, God’s work seems wrong. For His nature is mercy and love. He is the God of creation, who creates and gives life. And yet when He kills, he does not take our lives away — He uses it to create new life within us. So what seems bad to us is God working on us for our good. And the suffering of the plagues of sin that we must endure is something good, for it disciplines us, corrects and rebukes us, and turns us back to God and, as we will see next week, the Cross of Christ.
Last week, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told his father he was dead. Interestingly, he was sold to the Ishmaelites, cousins of Jacob. Ishmael was Isaac’s brother. The Ishmaelites sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s officers, and a captain in the guard. God preserved Joseph’s life, and he soon came to have responsibility for the operation of Potiphar’s entire household. Yet he also found favor with Potiphar’s wife who sought to seduce him. Joseph was truly a man of God, and, trusting alway that the Lord was watching over him, refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He was falsely accused of trying to take advantage of her for refusing her advances, and thrown into prison. Again, however, God was moving and preserved Joseph’s life. He soon gained favor in the prison with the jailer who put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners.
God’s grace is evident throughout Joseph’s life. When one is faced with such cruel events, there is the temptation to become angry and bitter. We are tempted to reject God and blame Him for the evil that has befallen us. And while the difficulties in our life are not always God’s doing, they are quite often something He does to us in our lives. We like to see such things as bad, unjust, wrong, and evil. For Joseph, as a young boy he is torn from his family, betrayed by his very own brothers, the ones who are to watch over him and protect him. He is taken away to a foreign land and sold to a strange house. Joseph certainly would have been justified in becoming bitter and vengeful toward his brothers. We certainly could have understood if he would have embraced the gods of Egypt and rejected Adonai Elohim, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and his father Jacob. This is especially so when he suffers a further grave injustice at the hands of his master’s wife when he is falsely accused of trying to take advantage of her and thrown into prison. Yet Joseph does none of these things. Instead, he trusts in the God of his fathers to protect him. He does so despite the awful circumstances that are worked upon him by his God, our God. You see, God does not always give us what we want. He does not always come to us in ways that we can see or even expect. Our sinful flesh is opposed to God — we want to be god and not let God be who He is, submit to Him and let Him rule over us. Joseph experiences the suffering of the cross, and in faith receives God’s grace as his life is preserved. In so doing, as we will see in the next lessons, he is raised up to preserve the lives of his family in a time of desperate need.
If you have ever had an annoying, know it all, favorite son, little brother, then you can relate to the story of Joseph and his brothers found in Genesis 37. Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son born of Rachel whom Jacob had to work 14 long years to be permitted to marry. After many years of being unable to conceive a child, and after watching her sister bear Jacob six children, Rachel’s womb was opened. Joseph, the second youngest son — Benjamin was the youngest — was a pest. He tagged along with his brothers when they went to shepherd the flocks in the field, and then tattled on his brothers for the things they did. Jacob had a lavish coat of many colors made and gave it to Joseph. The brothers could not speak to Joseph nicely as a brother.
There was bitterness and envy between them, and when Joseph told them of the dreams he had about the son, moon, and stars and the wheat in the field all bowing down to him, they hated him even more. Yet little did they know that Joseph was making a prophecy, not just of the salvation of his family from famine, but of the salvation of the world. For Joseph’s dream introduce an important theme that runs through the story of salvation that the older shall serve the younger and the younger shall rule over the older. Put another way, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Or the greatest among you shall be the least and servant of all. This is ultimately fulfilled in the person and work of the Christ. Joseph does become for his brothers an example of the Christ and what He will do for His people. While Joseph’s older brothers sold him into slavery and told his father he was dead, eaten by a lion, Joseph did not repay their evil with evil when the time came to rescue them from the devastating famine in the land. Joseph, second in command to the Pharoah in Egypt, ruling at the right hand of the king, had mercy on his brothers, forgave them for what they had done, and brought them into the land of Egypt where they lived and prospered the rest of their days.
Listen to Deaconess Pam Nielsen of Concordia Publishing House discuss this week’s Sunday School Lesson with Todd Wilken on Issues Etc.
In John 9, Jesus heals a man blind from birth. As they pass near this man, Jesus’ disciples pose the question — “Who sinned? This man or his parents?” The disciples recognized that man is sinful, but linked the physical disability to a specific sin of the parent or the child. And while there is a kernel of truth here, namely that our sin has consequences that are felt in this world both physically and spiritually, Jesus, acknowledging that kernel of truth, tells His disciples they miss the bigger point: This man is blind, so that God’s glory may be revealed in Him. And Jesus, pulls the man aside, spits in the dirt, creates mud, puts the mud on the man’s eyes, and tells the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam. When he returns, the man can see.
The Pharisees are shocked and dismayed by this act. They argue that a sinner like this man Jesus, a carpenter’s son whom they know, cannot heal the blind. Only God can do miracles such as these. But it is in the creative work of Christ, coming to the blind man, making a healing salve out of spit and mud, speaking to the man the Word of God, and the washing of water which gives the blind man faith to believe. It is a pure gift of God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit which leads this man to confess that Jesus must be a great prophet. And when the pharisees finish their questioning, Jesus again seeks out the man, and being the Christ, he confronts the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” His reply, “Tell me who He is Sir, that I may believe.” The Spirit has not only opened this man’s eyes to see the world, but his heart has been opened to draw on the well of spiritual knowledge from which he has been fed throughout his life. And so when Christ, the Cross itself, comes to him and confronts him, the blind man has a sense of hope welling within him. Having been made ready to receive salvation by the law, Christ reveals Himself to the man. This was done in the presence of some Pharisees, and Jesus takes the opportunity to reiterate His purpose in coming into this world — for judgment — that those who see or think they see may be made blind, and that those who are blind may be given sight.
Just as Jesus comes to the blind man to heal him, He comes to us, creates in us the faith to believe and receive Him. Christ openly confronts each one of us with the reality of the Cross and our sinfulness — He makes us ready to receive salvation, giving us the faith to receive Him. Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe! Keep us humble dear Christ, that in faith, we may receive you and carry you to others.
Listen to Deaconess Pam Nielsen of Concordia Publishing House discuss this week’s Sunday School Lesson with Todd Wilken on Issues Etc.
In this week’s Sunday School Lesson, Jesus meets with Nicodemus, a pharisee and leader of the Jews, and teaches him of the birth of the new Adam through our new life in Christ. Jesus talks with Nicodemus about the Spirit, Baptism, and Faith in instructing him about salvation. Click here to listen to the interview with Deaconess Pam Nielsen with Pr. Todd Wilken on Issues, Etc.
Lent. We follow Christ to the Cross in this season. It is 40 days long (not counting Sundays or Passion days), just like the time Jesus spent in the wilderness where the devil tempted Him. We hear little about the devil these days, Satan, that old wicked foe. But he is real, and working his evil in this world. He tempted Jesus, the God man, thinking, quite possibly, that he could get the Son of God to choose as he did and reject His place, and seek the throne of the Father. Jesus, however, as he demonstrates and models for us time and time again, holds fast to the Word of God, and rebuffs Satan at every turn.
Matthew 4:1-11 is the text for our lesson today. Jesus’ temptation shows how He, the new Adam, did what Adam and we cannot — overcome the temptation of the devil bringing with Him life and forgiveness for those who believe. Listen to the Issues, etc. interview with Deaconess Pam Nielson of Concordia Publishing House discussing this week’s Sunday School lesson.
In Matthew 17:1-9 Jesus takes Peter, James, and John the brother of James, up onto a high mountain. The disciples did not know the purpose for doing so. Usually when Jesus went to lonely places like this, He went to pray. There is something different about this scene. In Matthew 16, Jesus has dealt with the Pharisees who demanded a sign from Him. They wanted proof that He had the authority to teach as He did. Jesus told them that they would receive no sign, but the sign of Jonah already given to them.
Christ was concerned about the influence the Pharisees could have on the disciples and the church so He warned them, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” for such an attitude that demanded physical proof that one could hold onto, touch and see, could affect the whole church, cause many to doubt their faith, and lead many away from the Word of Christ. Jesus then asked who people said that He was and who His disciples said He was. Peter, never one to be shy, boldly proclaimed, “You are the Christ!” This, Jesus told Him, is the faith, is the confession that the Church shall be built on. Peter thinks he knows Jesus and He knows who THE CHRIST is: why He is the King who will restore the fortune and glory of King David, of ancient Israel. Jesus then tells His disciples that (1) He must suffer, die, and rise again, and (2) if they truly want to be His followers, they too must take up their cross and follow Him. In Mark, Peter rebukes Jesus for saying He must suffer and die, and Jesus calls Peter Satan. Mark’s account shows Jesus following Peter’s rebuke with the statement that His disciples must take up a cross just like Him in order to be true followers.
Do you think Peter really understood here who Jesus was and what He was telling His disciples? Do you think that Peter thought he would have to suffer like Jesus? Carry a cross like Him? Hardly. The Mount of Transfiguration tells the story. It is there that we find Peter, James, and John with Jesus when suddenly, Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes were as white as light. Mark tells us that Jesus’ clothes were so white, that no one could bleach them that white on earth. Moses and Elijah then appeared, and Peter offered to make three tents so that they could hang out for a while. It is then that a bright cloud descends upon the mountain top. It is not a big gray storm cloud, or a fluffy cloud you see on a sunny day but a bright cloud. Moses had seen it before. In fact, he met God the Father in such a cloud. This cloud comes down upon the mountain, and overshadows them, it envelops them, gathers them into it. The voice of God the Father booms, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!” The disciples fall flat on their faces when they heard the voice! They could not get up. They were in the presence of the Triune God, and the fear was one of awe, respect, and honor for the majesty and presence of the Creator. But yes, the disciples were probably very scared too and felt unworthy of having this honor shared with them. They do not get up until God the Son physically touches them and tells them, “Rise and have no fear!” The disciples eyes were opened a little wider now to see that Jesus was really more than what they perceived Him to be.
God promised Sarah and Abraham a son, a real son of their own. Sarah was old and barren, yet God provided. Isaac was the son born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. This week, God asks something of Abraham. A sacrifice. As they walk up the mountain, Isaac asks his father where the sacrifice may be. Abraham replies in faith, “God will provide.” Click here to listen to this week’s interview with Deaconess Pam Nielson of Concordia Publishing House on Issues, etc.
This week, Abraham receives three heavenly visitors who tell him that Sarah will have a child. Sarah laughs, but learns that God’s covenants and promises are no laughing matter. Click here to listen to the Issues Etc. interview with Deaconess Pam Nielson of Concordia Publishing House discuss preparing this lesson for Sunday.
This week’s Sunday School Lesson: Abram Rescues Lot. This would not be the last time that Abram intervenes to rescue his nephew. Note the mysterious figure of Melchizidek, the Priest of the Most high God from the town of Salem, better known after King David as the city of Jerusalem. Here Melchizedek blesses Abram, and shares Bread and Wine with him. Sound familiar? Interview with Deaconess Pam Nielson of Concordia Publishing House. Click the link below to listen.