"People Are Treasure"#87-20
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 12, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Genesis 39
I have a friend who plays a lot of golf. If you talk to him and ask him why he plays so much golf, he would tell you that it's not about the golf. He would tell you, "It's a social activity for me. I play golf because of the friends I get to be with."
If you had the opportunity to interview Jesus of Nazareth and you said to Him, "Jesus of Nazareth, being the eternal Son of God and all, what motivated You to become a human being?" Do you think Jesus would have said, "Well, I just always wanted to identify as a human. I wanted to have the firsthand experience of going through puberty and having my voice change and getting pimples. I was sitting there in heaven, and I was bored. I had all this stuff on my bucket list. I wanted to swim in the Sea of Galilee and to taste fine wine at a Canaanean wedding reception. I wanted to see a sunset with My own eyes, with human eyes." You think Jesus would have said that? As I read the New Testament, I am certain that He would not have said that. He would have said, "It's because of the people. I became flesh because of the people that I would get to be with."
Why? Why us? Why me? Why you? Is it your personality? Is it my personality? Is it our plans or our aspirations that's got Jesus so interested in us? Why? Maybe that's why your friends are interested in you and my friends are interested in me. It's something about our personality that drew them in, but how could we even begin to say that about the God who created us, the God who still gives us life and breath and everything that we have and everything that we are?
Even if we had never turned away from Him, even if I was completely virtuous and fully sinless, even then it would still be a puzzle that God would want to be with me, that God would want to be with you. And not just interested in being with you, but committed, willing to pay the price, willing to make the sacrifice, willing to give up His own mortal life so that He could be with you.
Why? It's not because He was bored. It's not because He was lonely or needy. No. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, overflowing in fullness in their relationship from eternity, the Father has the Son and the Son has the Spirit, and the Spirit, the Father, and they have each other. There's no need. So why? It is the central mystery of creation, and I won't attempt to solve it as though it were a problem to be solved. Instead, I want to embrace this mystery with you. I want to delight in this stunning truth that God loves us, that He wants to be with us, that He has come to be with us in Jesus. Why? That's just the kind of God that He is. And maybe if you got to know Him a little bit, His character, His personality, His plans, His aspirations, maybe if you got to know Him, you would be as interested in being with Him as He is with you.
In the Old Testament, the God of Abraham calls His people, "My treasured possession. My treasure." And if you got to know Him, I am certain that you would treasure Him as much as He treasures you. How do we let God be our treasure? Author Skye Jethani in his book titled, Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, he talks about three parts in a process of letting God be our treasure. First, we need to get a clear vision for what life with God looks like for God to be our treasure. And second, we need to be united with God. And third, we need to delight in the experience of being with God.
First, you and I need a vision of life with God—a clear picture of what it means when Jesus promises, "I am with you always, to the end of the age." Getting a clear picture is necessary for understanding. For example, in the book, Jethani talks about his son, who is six years old at the time, and his son had a serious sugar addiction. Now, if his dad would've said to him at the time, "Isaac, would you like some creme brulee?" Isaac would have said, "Eew. Gross. What's that?" See, Isaac would have had a picture of roasted root vegetables in balsamic vinegar or some other gross stuff that adults eat. He would not have wanted creme brulee. But if his dad would have said, "Isaac, would you like some vanilla pudding covered in sugar and cooked before your eyes with a blowtorch?" Isaac would not have been able to resist. He would've got a clear picture of life with that treasure.
Words are powerful. Words have the power to shape desires and cultivate affections. Words create a picture of life, life as it really is, life as it could be. And so, if you want God to be your treasure, you need a vision of life with God. You need to listen to the Bible. That's why we're doing this on this program. This is the vision that I am seeking so that God would be my treasure. This is why I listen to the book of Genesis. This is why last year on this program we listened to almost all of the Gospel of John. This is why in about a month we're going to listen to the Book of Exodus, because we are seeking this vision of life with God, that God might be our treasure. I want a vision for life with God because I want God to be my treasure, even as I know that in Jesus I am His.
And this week we're listening to Genesis 39. This is a section of the account of the life of Joseph: the son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. Joseph, if you remember, he was sold into slavery by his brothers, and now he's far from his family in a foreign land. And I want you to listen, four times in this chapter we are told that the Lord was with Joseph. The God who called Joseph's great grandfather, "My friend." Joseph is learning what it means to do life with God, to treasure Him and be treasured by Him.
Listen to this account of Joseph's life from Genesis 39. "Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt. And Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him. Now, the Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man and he was in the house of his master, and his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused everything he did to prosper in his hand. And he found favor in his sight. And he attended him, and his master put him in charge of the house and entrusted everything he had into his hand. And from the time that he put him in charge of his house and all that he had; the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake. The blessing of the Lord was on everything that he had, in his house and his field. And he left everything in Joseph's care, and he did not concern himself with anything except for the food that he ate.
"Now Joseph was a handsome man and well-built. After a time, his master's wife cast her eyes upon him, and she said to him, 'Come to bed with me.' But he refused. He said to his master's wife, 'Look, because of me, my master has no concern over anything in the house, and he has entrusted all that he has into my care. And there is no one greater in this house than me. And he has not withheld anything from me except you, because you're his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?' But she kept at it. She kept talking to him day by day, but he would not listen to her, to go to bed with her, to be with her.
"One day, Joseph went into the house to do his work, and there were no other household servants in the house. And she caught him by his cloak and said to him, 'Come to bed with me.' But he left his cloak in her hands and fled; he ran out of the house. And as soon as she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand, she called the household servants and she said to them, 'Look, he has brought this Hebrew among us to make sport of us. He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. And when he heard me scream, he left his cloak by my side and ran out of the house.' And she kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. And she told him the same story. 'That Hebrew slave you brought to be among us, he came in to me to make sport of me, but I screamed, and when he heard me scream, he left his cloak by my side and fled from the house.'
"And when his master heard what his wife had said to him, 'This is the way your slave has been treating me,' he burned with anger. And he took Joseph and he put him in prison where the king's prisoners were confined. And Joseph was there in prison, and the Lord was with him. And the Lord showed him steadfast love so that he found favor in the eyes of the warden of the prison. And he put him in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, Joseph was the one who did it. And the warden paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's care, because the Lord was with him. And everything he did, the Lord made succeed." The Word of the Lord.
Picture yourself in a situation like Joseph's: separated from your family; you're in a strange place. You've been falsely accused, and you have no recourse to defend yourself. Your boss, who once trusted you and respected you, now thinks you betrayed him, and you're in prison as a result, and your family thinks you're dead. What consolation is it then to know that your God loves you and is with you? What difference does that make? All the difference in the world if God is your treasure—if God is your treasure, all the difference in the world.
How does God become my treasure? How does God become your treasure? Well, first you need a vision of what life with God looks like, and that's why we listen to the Bible. And second, you need to be united with God. You need to turn from yourself and trust in the Lord. You need to be baptized if you're not baptized. And if you are baptized, you need to remember your Baptism, because Baptism is not an empty ritual. We hear in the Bible, in Romans chapter 6, that in Baptism, God united us with Jesus. God unites us with Jesus. We were on the cross with Jesus. We died with Him so that we might be raised with Him. We are put in the center of history. The cross of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus are the hinge on which history turns. And you were there, you were put there in your Baptism.
The cross is already foreshadowed in Genesis, in the life of Joseph, as you hear where it was that God revealed His unfailing love in the life of Joseph. You remember where it was? It wasn't at his highest point. It was at his lowest. It was the place where he had been stripped of everything else in this world that he might be able to count as treasure: his family, his country, his status, his job, his reputation, his freedom—gone. And it's there at the cross of Jesus where you find your treasure. The God who raised Jesus from the dead, the God who promises to raise you from the dead, the God who raised Joseph up out of prison and made everything he did succeed so that he might be a blessing to all the nations and give them this treasure: life with God.
God becomes our treasure when we get a clear vision of life with Him. God becomes our treasure when we are united with Jesus in a death like His so that we can share in a resurrection like His. God becomes our treasure when we delight in the experience of being with Him. It's a little like my friend who golfs, not because of the golf, but because of the people he gets to be with.
Another friend of mine says, "People are treasure." It can be hard to see people as treasure in more trying circumstances, away from the golf course, out on the battlefield, in a bad neighborhood, in a messy kitchen, in a conflicted workspace, in a nursing home, or a rehab center. It's hard to see people as treasure there. It's hard to see people as treasure when they are at their worst, when they are at their lowest. It's hard to see people as treasure when they are tempting you and accusing you and imprisoning you. It's hard to see people as treasure when they are crucifying you. And yet, to Jesus, they are. You are. Why? That's just the kind of person He is. And I promise you, if you would get to know Him, you would totally treasure His friendship.
Would you pray with me? Dear Lord, what am I that You would take notice of me and care for me? That I could say, "I am continually with You. You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel. You will receive me into glory." Whom have I in heaven, but You? And on the earth, there is nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart, they may fail, but You are the strength of my heart and my treasure forever. Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, eternal mystery, with His people now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for January 12, 2020
Title: People Are Treasure
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and that was our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler with a message titled, "People Are Treasure." Dr. Zeigler and his guests discussed that theme this week on our podcast, "Speaking of Jesus," and here's part of what they said.
Mike Zeigler: So what stands out to you in that?
Chad Lakies: God was going to accomplish what He wanted to do through Joseph's life. And it's clear by the end, 11 chapters later, He did.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah. What else stands out to you?
Jennifer Prophete : I think this was one of the most important stories in the Bible in my life. It comes up, especially when I'm going through something that I don't understand. This story is what grounds me and keeps me as saying, "God was with Joseph." It's easy for us, because we know the end of the story. Joseph didn't know the end.
Mike Zeigler: He spent two more years in prison.
Jennifer Prophete: Right when he is in prison, he doesn't know if he's going to get out. When he's at the top of the world, he doesn't know he's about to fall. He doesn't know the end of the story where we do. And so no matter what in my life, I often will come back to this story to say, like my life's a series of ups and downs that I don't know that are coming yet. But that doesn't scare me as much when I remember that God is with me.
Chad Lakies: It's better to face the unknown or even be accused and have God with you, than be on top of the world and not have Him. It was funny just listening to you say that—I was trying to compare, how would I as a believer in Christ—what messages does this say to me? And what messages would it say if I did not believe the truth of the story? So a story like this, if you're reading it as though it's a fairy tale, the only thing I get out of it is, you probably shouldn't sleep with your boss's wife.
Right. And that's a good lesson, right? Yeah, just in case you're wondering. Through faith in Christ, we believe this story, and because you believe it, it gives you different truths that come to you. It tells you first of all, that even in the midst of pain, God is always with you. It tells you that He's stronger than any accuser that comes your way. It tells you also that only through Him can anything good come. And also it tells you that even when I do the right thing, bad things can happen. People can still accuse me, but in the midst of that, God is always with you.
Beatriz Hoppe: One of the things that struck me when I read the story again, was that the narrative doesn't talk about Joseph's pains and suffering. What matters the most, is that God has been with you, like you Alex were saying, that God has been with you through it all. And it's true in my life, when I look back to all the painful places I've been, that doesn't hurt. What strikes me is, or what comes out is, okay, but God was there, and God was fulfilling His purpose for my life. When you look back, you can see that.
Mike Zeigler: This is something that a lot of people who've been in the military share, and I've experienced it firsthand, that it's terrible, it's hard, but you're there with your buddies. And in some ways it takes away the pain, and the comradery makes it worth it.
Beatriz Hoppe: It's like when we women have kids, we don't talk about all their pains we went ... Usually right? When we talk about our kids, we talk about our kids, and the experiences our kids are having, or we are having with our kids. But we don't go back to the delivery room, and we don't go back to that pain. We just take out the good of it.
Mike Zeigler: You just had a baby Jennifer, is this true, ring true for you?
Jennifer Prophete: It is true. Yeah, it is true. I don't look at the baby and say, "That hurt." At least not after the first day. She was a big baby.
Mike Zeigler: The word that got my attention in this was that steadfast love, right in the middle. I think this is in my brief study of where this word is used. This is a huge word, especially in the book of Exodus and the songs, that the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. He demonstrates His steadfast love, but it really hasn't shown up much at all in Genesis. And then this is where it gets dropped in, when he's in prison. This is where you see God's steadfast, unfailing, consistent love, is when Joseph said his low point. And that just struck me huge.
Jennifer Prophete: I think something that I've done a little reflecting on is we talk a lot in our society right now about isolated people, and how social media, we're more connected than ever, but we're more lonely than ever, particularly in America. And that this is a big void; it's a problem; it's a mental health issue. There's a crisis around us because of our isolation. And then when you think about Joseph, he's ultimately isolated, like you have mentioned that he lost his friends, he lost his family, he lost his country, he lost everything. But God was with him. And I think there's some important truth in that, and maybe that's why all of a sudden, now this has dropped in, into the Bible, and this steadfast love is not about giving stuff. What does the steadfast love mean, when everything else has gone away and you're in an isolated place? But this is a real narrative about loss. But it becomes a narrative about relationship and about God's steadfast love, not about loss, because of His steadfast love.
Don Everts: To know that about God, that He doesn't mind getting His feet dirty, if you will, to be there with us. It feels like that has the power to cut through a lot of this lie that says, well, when I get my act together, or whatever, then God will be with me. Then I feel like I'll be able to pray, or whatever. I love that this shows us a picture of God, in a really bad place.
Mark Eischer: For more of this discussion, look for "Speaking of Jesus" on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and at Jesuspodcast.org.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"What Is the World to Me?" arranged by Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"To Jordan Came the Christ Our Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)