Pastor Sherry’s Message for August 16, 2020

Scriptures: Gen 45:1-15; Ro 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matt 15:21-28

Who Gets Saved?

Recently I came across this story of a present day American artist, Steven Lavaggi. Some years back, he encountered a number of personal set-backs:  His wife left him to marry a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine.  Not two weeks later, he learned his son was suffering from Juvenile Diabetes. Then his graphic art business failed.

Unemployed, abandoned, and worried about his son, Lavaggi turned to God’s Word.  Sitting on his bedroom floor, and by himself, Steven read the Gospels. He later reported that he skipped over the black letters, wanting only to read the words spoken by Christ. Because he was reading with the intention of finding Jesus, the Risen Christ emerged from the pages. The artist then gave his life to the Lord.

As a new Christian, he clung to Psalm 91:11: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”  Out of his brokenness, came a passion to create a message of hope. To this end, he left the lucrative world of graphic art to become a struggling fine artist.  His paintings typically are of beautiful rural scenes usually populated with tall, graceful angels; he has also fashioned some amazing sculptures of angels.

Lavaggi’s story is of a man who has withstood and overcome the blows of life.  At a point of true despair, he began to search the Bible for encouragement.Reading only the red letters, he found it–Praise God!–and gave his heart to Jesus!  Out of the depths of his pain, Steven sought out and found salvation.  Finding Jesus inspired him to redirect his life’s work from graphic art to painting and sculpting works that bring hope to others.

One of the themes present in our Scripture passages today is that of being saved or experiences of salvationLet’s examine these together:

Last week, our Old Testament lesson, related how Joseph’s 10 brothers from other mothers sold him into slavery. This week’s lesson, Genesis 45:1-15, jumps ahead to describe Joseph’s reunion with the 10 half-brothers and with his full brother, Benjamin.  Joseph, after 13-14 years of slavery, interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and reports correctly that they predict 7 years of massively abundant harvests followed by 7 years of desperate famine.

Two years into the famine, his 10 treacherous brothers arrive in Egypt to purchase food for the family.  Unbeknownst to them, their lost brother Joseph has survived—by the design and grace of God—and is now second in command of all of Egypt.  They no doubt fail to recognize him because he is…

[1] Clean shaven rather than bearded;

[2] Dressed in Egyptian clothing and jewelry;

[3] 22 years older than when they last saw him;

[4] Speaking the Egyptian language, while talking to them thru an

interpreter.

         [5] And, not to mention, they probably never expected to see him alive ever again.  It is to Joseph that they must apply to buy grain.  Just as Joseph’s own dreams from age 17 had prophesied, his 10 brothers now bow down to him to request aid.

Wisely, before he reveals himself to them, Joseph checks to see if they have changed in the interim.  He generously sells them the grain they need to live, but also decides to test them in two ways:  1st he requires that they leave Simeon behind and bring back Benjamin.  He is testing their honesty.  He is also checking to see if they will allow another brother (Simeon) to be killed or imprisoned to get what they want.  The brothers return again, to buy more food, and bring Benjamin.  Joseph’s 2nd test involves his full brother, Benjamin.  Joseph has his servants hide a favored cup in Ben’s bags.  This is a set up to see if they will sacrifice the new favorite son.  Joseph wants to know if they have ascertained the cost of jealousy.  Have they become more loyal to their brother from Joseph’s mother?  Have they developed greater compassion for their ageing and heartbroken, grieving father?

Judah, the new leader of the 10 brothers, steps up and offers his life in the place of Benjamin.  The brothers do realize that potentially losing another brother is God’s punishment for what they did to Joseph.  At least Judah—who had been the one to suggest they sell Joseph to slave traders–is willing to sacrifice his life for Benjamin’s.  Judah had been so mortified by his father’s deep grief over Joseph’s supposed death that he had fled the family camp and lived for a time with the Canaanites.  Judah’s offer indicates a true change of heart.

So, satisfied that they have truly undergone a moral transformation, Joseph reveals his true identity to them.  At first, they can’t believe it is him.

Then they fear his retribution.  But in a truly Christ-like way, he reassures them, [Peterson’s The Message](v.5+)àI am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt.  But don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me.  God was behind it.  God sent me here ahead of you to save lives.  There has been a famine in the land now for two years; the famine will continue for five more years—neither plowing nor harvesting.  God sent me on ahead to pave the way and make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives in an amazing act of deliverance.  So you see, it wasn’t you who sent me here but God.  He set me in place as a father to Pharaoh, put me in charge of his personal affairs, and made me ruler of all Egypt.  God uses Joseph to save his father, Jacob/Israel, his brothers, and his whole extended family (a total of 90 people); but Joseph’s wisdom also saves thousands, perhaps millions of Egyptians; as well as untold, unnumbered, other Gentiles.

So, who gets saved?  Joseph’s family and the fledgling Jewish/Hebrew nation.

Our New Testament Lesson, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, makes it pretty clear that God has not rejected the Jews as His Chosen People.  Just as God is merciful to us, Gentile believers, He too will have mercy on the Jews.  At some point in the future (probably during the Great Tribulation), many—not all—but many Jews will come to Christ and be saved.

 Who gets saved?  Many modern day Jews in the days to come.

Our Gospel lesson occurs in Matthew 15, but is also told in Mark 7.  Jesus journeys outside Israel’s borders (into Tyre & Sidon, NW of Jerusalem)because He knows He has been rejected by many of his countrymen.  He apparently needs a break.  His focus has been on reaching His fellow Jews, the Children ofIsrael.  But now He appears to indicate, through this story, that He will also receive Gentiles (aren’t we glad?).

This Canaanite (Syro-Phoenecian) woman with a demonized daughter approaches Him.  Apparently, she is noisily insistent that she see Jesus. she persists.  She won’t take no for an answer.  She has no true claim on Jesus as…

[1] She is not a Jew by nationality—wrong ethnicity;

[2] She is not a convert to the Jewish faith—wrong religion;

[3] And she is a woman—wrong gender, by the standards of the day.  And, remember, Jewish rabbis did not typically speak to women.

But this woman is a mother–and apparently a tigress–desiring healing for her child.  Clearly she believes Jesus can free her daughter from demons.  And clearly she isn’t going to be put off.

Jesus uses the metaphor of dogs to remind her, His disciples, and whoever might else might be listening, that His first priority is to the Jews.

Jews often referred to Gentiles as “dogs.”  However, Jesus uses the diminutive of “dogs”, “puppies” in the Hebrew.  He is essentially saying, just as in a family, there is an order here. The children (Israelites) eat first; then puppies get fed, but not from the table and not until the kids are done.  He is not telling her she cannot expect help from Him, but rather that there is a set of priorities to His ministry.

She gets what He is saying, steps into His metaphor, and reminds Him that (v.27)àbut even the puppies eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.  She knows she does not have a legitimate place at theJewishtable;but she indicates that she believes that Jesus can provideenough to Israel that some leftovers will be available to her and to her daughter.  She dialogues with Jesus in a most respectful way.Notice, she doesn’t say, Give me what I deservedue to my goodness or my rights—or quote “Me too” movement slogans, which some today might.  Instead, as Timothy Keller asserts in his book King’s Cross (2011, p.89), she implies,Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of Your goodnessand, please, I need it right now.

Jesus commends her:  (v.28)àWonderful answer!  Incredible answer!  You may go.  The demon has left your daughter.  He appears to be impressed with her—and heals herchild—because she got His metaphor without His having to explain it; and perhaps too because she answers Him from within the parable.  These things tell Himshe heard and understood His message to her.

Who gets saved?  This woman and probably her daughter.

So, to sum up, who gets saved?

  1. Steven Laveggi, through reading Scripture;
  2. Joseph’s father, brothers, their wives and kids; through Joseph’s wisdom and forgiving spirit.
  3. God’s chosen people, the Jews, if they behave like they know, obey, and love the Lord; and if they accept Jesus as their Savior.
  4. And Gentiles, like us, who–as Paul reminds us in Romans 10:9–If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

To this I say “Thank you, Lord, for making it so simple.  Help us all to demonstrate our love and faith in you, daily, by what we say and by what we do.  May it all be pleasing to You!  Amen!”

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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