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"Call it a Comeback"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 26, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2024 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Genesis 41

When do you call it a comeback? Shaking his fist, having been fired by the board of directors, the former CEO started telling people that he was planning on "Steve Jobs-ing" it. That is, he was planning a comeback. He was referring to one of the most memorable comeback stories in the business world. The rise, the fall, and the return of Apple's co-founder and chief executive officer, the late Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976, and over the next few years he helped lead the company to its initial success. People said that Jobs was an eccentric genius, but he was notoriously difficult to work with. He didn't think that the rules applied to him. He would try to bend things to his desires. He would walk on people; he would brow beat people to try to get them to do what he wanted. And so it wasn't a surprise in 1985 when the board of directors ousted Jobs from the company that he had helped create.

But then 12 years later, when Apple was enduring some tough financial times, the company had lost its way. That's when Steve with his indomitable will to bend reality to his favor. That's when he began "Steve Jobs-ing" it. He persuaded the board of directors to fire the current CEO and to bring him back as the top executive. He orchestrated a comeback, not just for himself but for the whole company. He, over the next decade, brought Apple from near bankruptcy to billions. All of those sleek looking products and platforms that you're familiar with, iCloud and iTunes, iPod, iPad, iPhone. None of those would have happened without this comeback. From beginning to end, the Bible is a unified story that we could call a comeback. Why are people so captivated by comeback stories? I love comeback stories. You love a good comeback story, right? What is it about these stories that capture our attention?

Maybe it's because we're living in one. We are in a comeback story. That is the claim of the Bible. The Bible isn't just a story about ancient history. The Bible is the story about how things really are in the world right now. We are living a comeback story. It doesn't matter what you've done. It doesn't matter who you've become. God is writing a comeback story for you. That's why He sent Jesus. Jesus is at the center of this comeback. He's the King of comeback. That's why we say, "And He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and is sitting at the right hand of God, and from there He will come back to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end." See, Jesus was rejected. He was crucified because He claimed to be the Messiah, the King of God's people, the Lord of all the nations.

And at His trial, His accusers questioned him. They asked Him directly, "Are You the Messiah?" And He answered directly. He said, "I am. And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven." Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man—this mysterious figure that's revealed in the book of Daniel 7. Daniel has a vision. He has a dream from God. Daniel says, "Look, with the clouds of heaven, there came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days." He came to God, and He was presented to God. The Son of Man was presented to God, and to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom so that all peoples, all nations, all languages should serve Him, and His kingdom will not end.

So Jesus, the night before He was crucified, said that He was going to stage a comeback. Not only would God raise Him from the dead, but God would exalt Him to be the King over everything, to have dominion over the whole creation. And this was the plan from the beginning. You remember God gave Adam and Eve, He gave them dominion over the creation to rule the creation with wisdom and peace and grace, but they lost it. They fell from it by turning from God. And so God sent His Son Jesus to stage a comeback. Jesus died the death that we deserve, and God raised Him from the dead to restore us to the glory of being fully and truly human. Everything in the biblical narrative points to this—even the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob who was sold as a slave in Egypt.

For centuries, followers of Christ have seen Joseph as a Christ figure. A Christ figure is someone whose life points people to Jesus. It's sort of like a model that gets you ready for the real thing. Joseph is a Christ figure because he prefigured a Christ-like comeback. He foreshadows Christ's rejection and humiliation. He anticipates Christ's restoration and exaltation. And so I listened to the story of Joseph, not for Joseph's sake, but for the sake of Jesus. See, like the apostle Paul said, "I want to know Jesus." "I want to know the power of His resurrection. I want to share in His sufferings. I want to become like Him in his death, so that by any means possible, by all means possible, I might attain a comeback like His."

More than anything in the world, I want you to experience this comeback. So I invite you, listen to the story of Joseph with me. Listen to this part of the story of Joseph. It's in Genesis 41. I'll share some excerpts with you. This takes place at Joseph's low point. At his rejection, at his deathlike experience, having been forgotten in prison for two years. This is where the story picks up.

"Now, after two full years, Pharaoh the king of Egypt had a dream. And behold, he was standing by the Nile River. And look, out of the Nile there came climbing seven cows, sleek-looking, fat cows, and they grazed among the reeds. And look, after these came from the river, seven other cows. And these ones were evil looking and gaunt, and they stood beside the other cows on the riverbank. And the evil-looking, gaunt cows, they ate up the sleek, fat cows.

"And Pharaoh woke up and fell asleep again, and had a second dream. And look, seven heads of grain growing from a single stock full and plump. And look, seven other heads of grain sprouting. And these ones were thin and scorched by the east wind. And the seven thin heads of grain gobbled up the seven full ones. And Pharaoh woke up. Behold, it had been a dream. In the morning, Pharaoh's spirit was troubled. So he sent for and he called all the magicians of Egypt and all the wise men. And he told them his dream, but none of them could interpret them for him.

Then, the chief cup bearer spoke to Pharaoh saying, 'This day I am reminded of my sins. Sometime ago Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and he put me in the prison house of the captain of the guard, and with me the chief baker. That very night, he and I, we both had dreams. Each dream with its own meaning, and there with us in the prison was a young Hebrew, a servant of the captain of the guard. And we told him our dreams, and he interpreted them, giving each man the meaning of his dream. And things happened exactly as he had interpreted. I was restored to my position and the other was hanged.'

"Then Pharaoh sent for and called Joseph. And they quickly brought him from the hole from the dungeon, And he shaved himself, and changed his clothes, and he stood before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I have had a dream, and no one can interpret it, but I hear it said of you that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it.' And Joseph answered Pharaoh, 'Not me, God. God will answer Pharaoh with peace.' And so Pharaoh told Joseph his dream about the cows and the heads of grain. And Joseph answered Pharaoh, 'The dreams of Pharaoh are one. God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years, and the seven lean, evil-looking cows are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain. They are seven years of famine.'

"'God has shown Pharaoh what He's about to do. Look, seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, and seven years of famine will follow them. And the famine will ravage the land, and all the abundance of Egypt will be forgotten. The abundance will not be remembered, because the famine will be so severe. And the doubling of Pharaoh's dream means that the matter is fixed by God, and God will do it quickly. So then, let Pharaoh find a discerning and wise man and put him in charge over the whole land of Egypt. And let him appoint commissioners over the land, and let them take one-fifth of the harvest during the seven years of abundance, and let them store up the food under the authority of Pharaoh to be kept in the cities for food. Let them keep the food in reserve for the land so that the land will not be devoured during the famine.'

"And the plan was good. The plan was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, 'From where will we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?' And Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Because God has made this known to you and there is no one so wise and discerning as you are, you will be in charge of my palace, and all my people will submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne, will I be greater than you. I hereby put you in charge of all the land of Egypt.' And Pharaoh took off his signet ring, and he put it on the finger of Joseph. And he clothed him in robes of fine linen, and he put a gold chain around his neck, and he had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command. And men went before him, saying, 'Make way! Make way!' And Pharaoh gave him all the land of Egypt. And he gave him also Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On, gave her to him in marriage.

"Now Joseph was, he was 30 years old when he entered into the service of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. And he traveled all throughout the land of Egypt. And the land produced plentifully during the seven years of abundance. And in the cities, Joseph stored up all the grain that was produced in the fields surrounding that city. Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, grain like the sand of the sea. And he stopped keeping records, because it was beyond measure.

"Now, before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by his wife, Asenath. And his firstborn son, he called Manasseh. Manasseh, he said, 'Because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household.' And he named the second son Ephraim. Ephraim, he said, 'Because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.'

"And then the seven years of abundance came to an end. And the seven years of famine began just as Joseph had said. And all Egypt began to feel the famine, and they came to Pharaoh, and they cried out to him for food. And Pharaoh said to the Egyptians, 'Go to Joseph and do everything that he tells you.' And Joseph opened the store houses and sold grain to the Egyptians, and all the land came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was so severe in all the land." The Word of the Lord—excerpts from Genesis 41.

Ed Catmull worked closely with Steve Jobs for 26 years. Ed was part of Steve's comeback story, and he got to know him better than most. In Ed Catmull's book Creativity, Inc., he says that when people tell Steve Jobs' story, they too often focus on his extreme traits: his drive to win at any cost, his insistence on not playing by the rules, his refusing to give in to other people's wishes. That's the stuff that makes for a good comeback story, right? That's not how Ed sees it. Ed says in his book, "I don't believe any of it comes close to capturing the man I knew. Steve changed profoundly in the years that I knew him."

An authentic comeback story is not told by the person who does whatever they want to get whatever they want. It's the story of personal transformation through rejection, through failure, through loss. A true comeback story always is something of a death and resurrection story. Now, some people say that the story of Jesus is just a story invented to follow this pattern, but I believe, and I invite you to believe, that the patterns that we see are like ripples emanating out from the singular impact of the crucified and risen Jesus on history.

And so when Ed Catmull tells the story of the transformation of his friend Steve Jobs, even there is an echo of death and resurrection. The Steve who got ousted from Apple in 1985 was not the same person who was leading the company's comeback, a decade later.

In Christ, God is writing a comeback story for you, but we don't call it a comeback if it's the same old you who's been here for years. You don't call it a comeback, if it's only a change of circumstances, and your character remains untouched. You don't call it a comeback, if it's only about getting what you always wanted.

You call it a comeback because life in Jesus means the death of the old you. And through faith in Jesus, the real you begins to live. You and I, we are living cross-shaped comeback stories, because the One who faced the cross, saying to God, "Father, not what I want but what You want." Your comeback in Christ is less like an underdog coming from behind to win the championship, and more like the corpse of Jesus stepping from the tomb revived by the Spirit of God. You and I, we were once dead in our sins, but God has made us alive together in Christ. God is doing more than simply reversing fortunes. He's doing more than changing your circumstances. He is making you into a new person, a discerning and wise person—one in whom there is the Spirit of God like Jesus, like Joseph.

Did you notice that God didn't directly reveal the solution to Joseph? The dream he interpreted only revealed the problem: that the seven years of famine would eat up the seven good years. It was Joseph who came with the solution. It was Joseph who worked against the outcome foretold in the dream. The future was not fixed in that sense. See, God wanted to work in Joseph and with Joseph and through Joseph to come up with a solution from within the problem. Even as the greater solution. Joseph could never imagine how it would unfold, but God wanted to work with Joseph. And He wants to do the same with you.

Joseph did not lie down and let his problems run over him. He owned his responsibility before God. And at the same time, Joseph confessed, you heard it: "It's not me. God will give the answer of peace." Make that your confession. It's not me—God. That's what we call wisdom. That's what we call a comeback.

I invite you to pray with me. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your Name give glory because of Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness. You are my shield and my help. In You I've put my trust through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Reflections for January 26, 2020

Title: Call It a Comeback

Mark Eischer: Now, Dr. Zeigler talks with Professor Joel Biermann of Concordia Seminary about his book, A Case for Character.

Mike Zeigler: How do you define character?

Joel Biermann: Character, I think rightly understood, is simply the habits, the traits, the dispositions, the sort of the ways of being. So, in other words, a person doesn't have character. It's really the summation of what he is.

Mike Zeigler: You are a character.

Joel Biermann: Exactly. How he functions, how he thinks. It's not a show. It's not a front. It's just who you are. It's how you operate. That's your character. But see, the thing to remember about character, which is maybe very significant for us to think about, is it's not static, and it's always being shaped. It's always developing. It's always in process.

Mike Zeigler: You use this great image in the book, A Case for Character, of character being the imprint of something, of something that's forming you. So, if we say that the biblical narratives are forming Christian character, how does that work?

Joel Biermann: Yeah, the very narrative itself shapes how you look at things. The more you hear that story, the more it becomes imprinted on you. Cultures have always known this. This is why cultures are so founded on stories. When you lose the stories, you lose the culture. So when Christians lose the biblical narrative and start letting go of the stories, they're letting go of a lot more than just some nice stories that make everybody feel happy at certain times of the year. They're losing their very identity.

Mike Zeigler: Sometimes Joseph is called a Christ-figure. Could you break that down for us a little bit? What does that mean to be a Christ-figure, and are we somehow Christ-figures, in any way?

Joel Biermann: We can be, should be. The Christ-figure is sort of the foreshadowing that you see in Joseph what Jesus will do. There are a lot of these Christ-figures through the biblical narrative. We can even see Christ-figures in the wider culture around us. This happens. So it's not surprising that we find Christ-figures even in secular culture. It can't be helped. It's just so pervasive, so absolutely permeating.

So Christ is the center of the whole story: God in human flesh, saving us, redeeming us, and restoring us to what God intended his creation to be. Joseph prefigures this beautifully, who is one who is faithfully doing God's will, who is rejected and condemned in spite of that, and then who is restored by God and raised up to a dizzying heights beyond anybody's imagination. This is what we see happening with Jesus. Of course, Jesus explodes it much bigger, much greater. He's God in the flesh, and we have a death and resurrection, but yet there's a continuity here, which is exactly God's M.O.

He operates this way all the time. There's a continuity. There's a newness and a freshness and a pushing open even further what God is doing, but there's a sameness to it. We see God is very consistent in how he operates.

Mike Zeigler: You say something like this in your book that when we talk about Christian character, all we're talking about is being conformed into the image of Christ ...

Joel Biermann: Exactly.

Mike Zeigler: ... into the character of Christ.

Joel Biermann: Exactly.

Mike Zeigler: So, of course, we are like and ought to be and is destined to be.

Joel Biermann: That's right, Christ. There's a sense where some Christians get nervous about talking about Jesus as an example. They know "He's my Savior," and yes, "He's my Savior." Absolutely, and I'm totally dependent upon him. But He's also exactly what it looks like when a human being is doing what he's supposed to do. So He is the prime exemplar of what it means to live faithfully and obediently. What does the writer to Hebrews even say? That He learned obedience, and because He learned obedience, He was exalted. So the idea of being faithfully obedient, Jesus shows us this. So Jesus is my Savior, no doubt, always, first and foremost, my Savior, but He's also my example. He also shows me what it looks like to trust God and to be faithful and to do what I've been given to do. Joseph shows me this. Jesus shows it even more profoundly.

Mike Zeigler: Thank you for joining me.

Joel Biermann: My pleasure.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"O Christ, Our True and Only Light" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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