Author: Pastor Gabriel Chan
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Matthew 21:33-46 We are blessed only to become a blessing to many.
33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built A tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. 35 The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. 37 But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” 41 They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,
‘The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone;
This came about from the Lord,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. 44 And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. 46 When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.
Jesus continues His discourse with the Jews reminding them of their covenant and calling. Jesus paints a stark and dreadful picture of a decaying people on the verge of annihilation. Their vineyard will soon be taken from them! Yet the message falls on hardened and callous hearts that responded only with hate and murder. The depravity of the Jews mirrors today’s churches except that it has become more insidious and difficult to detect as the devil burrows himself deep within the ecclesiastical mindset. The blessed people must remember their calling and covenant lest they become fleshly and self-serving… the end of which is destruction and regret. Today’s devotion reminds us that we are blessed, not be self-serving, but to become a blessing to many.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it…
The landowner in his plans to build a fully functional vineyard did the necessary to make it productive. Having put up a wall, created a wine press and built up a tower, he rented it out to vine-growers at a price. When it was harvest time, he sent his servants to collect the rent due him. However, not only did the tenants withhold rent from him, they mistreated the servants by beating one, killing another and stoning a third. The landowner out of his forbearance sent a larger group of servants hoping to convict them into paying their dues. They too were met with the same mistreatment.
Interpretation: The landowner refers to God, who has entrusted the work of world salvation to the Jewish nation and made a covenant with them. The vineyard with its wall, winepress and tower represents divine protection, revelations and blessing, and divine providence respectively. In renting the vineyard to the Jewish people, God calls them to the ministry of salvation for humanity at large. In the same token, God expects them to produce fruit leading to repentance and salvation of the nations. However, the Jewish leaders did not fulfil their part as tenants of the vineyard. Not only did they not preach the truth, they oppressed the people and became a disgrace to the gentile nations. When God sent his servants and prophets to remind them of their covenant and calling. They killed the prophets and the prophets that came after them.
But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
Finally, the landowner sent his son, thinking they would surely respect him and pay their dues. However, the tenants’ hearts grew more callous each time. Only this time, they became heinous while setting their eyes on the son’s inheritance. They threw his son out and killed him intending to possess his inheritance.
Interpretation: God, in His forbearance sent the prophets to warn them of the judgment to come. They appeared to conform for a brief period only to fall back into evil and sin. Subsequently, Israel was destroyed by Babylon and the nation went into exile until the time of Jesus. One supposed that the exiled Jews might have repented from their transgressions. But when Jesus came preaching the message of repentance and salvation, they rejected His authority as God’s Son and hung Him on the cross. The Jews had become more wicked, for they were driven by the desire to dominate the world and even God.
Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?
Jesus invited the hearers to contribute to what possible actions the landowner may take. Their answers were unanimous, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end…” The landowner’s forbearance and long-suffering with his evil tenants ultimately culminate in an implacable wrath. The landowner brings swift judgment upon the tenants and give the vineyard to another people who will give him fruit of the harvest.
Here, Jesus quoted from Psalm 118:22-23 concerning the stone that the builders rejected which ultimately became the chief corner stone. The cornerstone or foundation stone is the first stone set in the construction of a building. The cornerstone is important since all other stones and structures will be set in reference to it. The position and integrity of the whole building is determined by the cornerstone.
Interpretation: The impenitent Jews, having broken their covenant, will be stripped of their calling and privileges. The privileges of divine protection, revelations and providence will be given to another people who will bring God’s plans into fruition. Israel’s blessing will be given to another nation and be deprived for a time. Jesus accused the Jews for rejecting the stone which ultimately became the cornerstone of God’s kingdom. In rejecting the cornerstone, they rejected Jesus as Lord, and everything that He stood for. Subsequently, God resurrected Jesus and appointed Him as the cornerstone of His kingdom. As cornerstone, Jesus becomes the very foundation of God’s kingdom. By rejecting Jesus as cornerstone, they deprive themselves of their place in the eternal kingdom.
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people
Jesus dropped the bombshell and warned the Jews that the kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to a people who bears fruit. The chief priests and the Pharisees knew that Jesus was alluding to them. But their hearts were set on evil. In order to stop Jesus from airing their hypocrisies in public, they would have arrested him if not for the people who were there.
Interpretation:“The kingdom of God will be taken away from you…” infers the lost of divine privileges of protection, revelation and providence and blessings. Their status as a privileged nation, a blessed nation will be revoked and given to another people. The rebuke from Jesus not only fell on deaf ears, their heart became even more callous.
We are blessed only to become a blessing to many
When God blesses a person or a nation by entrusting them with the truth, He requires them to be a blessing to the world. The thrust of God’s blessing is actively pushing outward from the initial recipients to the rest of the world. But when the blessed people turn their eyes inward, becoming wicked and self-serving, God removes the divine privileges from them. The vineyard provides divine protection, revelations of the truth, and divine providence to the tenants. However, when the tenants stop producing fruit that is required of the covenant, God sends the prophets to admonish them so that they may repent. But when they reject the prophets’ calls to repentance, God removes His protection and destruction comes upon them. The issue that Jesus had with the Jewish leaders is their bent towards falsehood and hypocrisy. They preach that all will be well by virtue of their heritage and covenant in Abraham. They surmise that their salvation is secure as God is faithful even when they are unfaithful.
Today, God is speaking to the church who are recipients of His divine protection, revelations and providence. The church must continue to produce fruit by preaching the word so that people may walk in the truth and live abundantly; To give themselves to the ministry of saving souls and to helping the poor; To keep themselves pure from the love of money and the promiscuous lifestyle.
However, the thrusts of the majority of churches today serves to fulfil the desires of the people in order to keep their halls filled. Their ministers harbour ambitions supposing success is to be big and popular. Their messages appeal to one’s love for the world, and the desires of the flesh. They offer the grace of God as the means to blessings apart from godliness. They preach Christ as having removed godliness as the requisite for salvation and eternal life. This ecclesiastical decline will contribute to the breaking down of the social fabric and eventually the death of the nation. God has sent prophets to speak of impending judgment but were drowned out by the voices of false teachers who purport that all is well, “Grace, grace.”
The words of the prophet Jeremiah echoes from time past warning the church today as Christ has warned the Jews in His days…
16 Thus says the Lord of hosts,
“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you.
They are leading you into futility;
They speak a vision of their own imagination,
Not from the mouth of the Lord.
17 “They keep saying to those who despise Me,
‘The Lord has said, “You will have peace”’;
And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart,
They say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.’…
20 “The anger of the Lord will not turn back
Until He has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart;
In the last days you will clearly understand it. Jeremiah 23:16,17,20
Are your eyes trained on salvation and worldly blessings supposing that God’s patience is infinite? Your eyes must be trained on godliness and on the things in heaven. Salvation and blessing are but the fruit of a regenerated life. Therefore, seek divine wisdom by meditating on His word and to understand His perspectives. Seek divine love by practising forbearance towards others and by sacrificing your time and resources for the needy. Seek divine power by practicing self-control over your body and to do things beyond your natural abilities. In so doing, God will enlarge the boundaries of your vineyard and cause you to abound in blessing and fruitfulness.
Dear Lord, I thank you for blessing me so that I can be a blessing. I resolve to seek divine wisdom, love and power. Fill me with your Spirit so that I may overcome the weakness of my human nature. Cause me to bear the fruit of a divine life, full of wisdom, love and power. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.
Genesis 44:18-34 It is more rewarding to do what is right than to strive for men’s favour
Then Judah approached him, and said, “Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20 We said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 But we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 You said to your servants, however, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24 Thus it came about when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 Our father said, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28 and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn in pieces,” and I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’ 30 Now, therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, 31 when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. 32 For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ 33 Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me—for fear that I see the evil that would overtake my father?”
Judah’s speech is like a beacon of light bringing clarity to the circumstances surrounding the silver cup crime. Judah begins with the history of their journeys to Egypt while dwelling on their father’s reluctance to release Benjamin lest he suffer the misery of losing another son. He subtly warns that the loss of Benjamin will kill the father. He consummates his speech by offering himself in place of Benjamin so as to spare his father of another loss. Judah does what is right by sacrificing himself for a brother more loved than himself. In so doing, he wins not only God’s favour but also his father’s unrivalled blessing. Today’s devotion teaches us that it is more rewarding to do what is right than to strive for the favour of men.
Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears
In Judah’s speech, we can see a reversal in their earlier violation of filial and fraternal bonds. Judah represents his brothers in verbalising their repentance thus, rising up whence they have once fallen.
For you are equal to Pharaoh (v18)… Acknowledgment of Joseph’s authority and dominion over them.
Now his brother is dead (v20)… This emphasises Jacob’s attachment to Benjamin as the only surviving son of his favourite wife Rachel.
And his father loves him (v20)… Jacob retains his tendencies and dotes upon Benjamin.
For if he should leave his father, his father would die (v22)… The stark and painful acknowledgment of his father’s favouritism. It was favouritism that moved the brothers to harm Joseph. But now, this favouritism was used as ground for mercy.
Unless your youngest brother comes down with you (v23)… An appeal for mercy as Judah has taken upon himself to bring Benjamin at Joseph’s request.
You know that my wife bore me two sons (v27) … Jacob identifies with his father by putting his attitude into words. In so doing, he relegates himself to a place of inferiority, as son of the other woman of the household.
“Surely he is torn in pieces,” I have not seen him since (v28)… Joseph hears for the first time the official position of his disappearance and his father’s persistent lament and grief.
You will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow (v29)… Judah speaks his father’s exact words should Benjamin fails to return.
Since his life is bound up in the lad’s life (v30)… A way of portraying Benjamin as the lifeline of Jacob.
When he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die (v31)… A subtle warning of the consequence that binds Joseph’s decision to the fate of their father.
Bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow (v31)… An iteration of Jacob’s words to show the severity of the consequence should Benjamin not return.
Let me bear the blame before my father forever (v32)… Judah makes known his commitment to his father. For the sake of the family’s wellbeing, and for Benjamin’s safety, he will bear the risk with his own life.
Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord
Judah offers himself as slave in exchange for Benjamin’s freedom. His words reveal his compassion for his father for he pleaded to be sacrificed in exchange for one more loved than himself. Judah’s spirituality is one of filial devotion and brotherly love for he used his disadvantaged position as a lesser son as ground for self-sacrifice.
It is more rewarding to do what is right than to strive for men’s favour
Judah, by this time has come to accept that somethings will never change. Jacob will continue to single out Benjamin as his favourite as he has done before for Joseph. He holds no apologies in his statement, ”You know my wife bore me two sons” as though Leah were not also his wife and the ten were not also his sons. Yet, Judah harbours deep empathy for his father’s wellbeing. So much so he is willing to give himself so that the younger “legitimate” son can be set free. Even though Judah has accepted the fact that it is impossible to gain his father’s favour, he chooses to do what is right. Hence, Judah’s acts of filial and fraternal devotion arises purely out of the desire to walk in the truth.
In another occasion, when the household was threatened by Jacob’s intransigence to dispatch them to Egypt to purchase grain, he took it upon himself to insure Benjamin’s safety. It is in moments like this that Judah outshines his brothers in wisdom and love. In choosing to do what is right at great personal costs, he gains God’s approval. In fact, the bible is explicit in declaring God’s favour for Judah and His descendants. Prophet Hosea prophesied that God will deliver Judah whom He loves from the Assyrians, but not the house of Israel:
I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them. But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the Lord their God…” Hosea 1:6-7
And again the psalmist proclaims God’s love and faithfulness towards Judah and His descendants, but not the other tribes.
He also rejected the tent of Joseph,
And did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,
But chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion which He loved. Psalm 78:67-68
Judah was not perfect; he engineered the sale of Joseph into slavery some twenty-two years earlier. Now, he engineers the freedom of Benjamin by offering himself as slave. To what does Judah owe this miraculous transformation? It is through a series of moral struggles and repentance that made him who he is. On one occasion, Judah confessed to his deceit when he broke his promise and did not give his son Shelah to Tamar as husband (see Genesis 38:26).
Indeed, the love of human beings is unpredictable, arbitrary and at times bitterly unjust, but the favour of God belongs to those who walk in the truth. The proverbs say,
Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good repute
In the sight of God and man. Proverbs 3:3-4
As it turns out, Judah gained unrivalled favour and supremacy not only with God but also with his father. For he inherited a much better blessing than Joseph and Benjamin at his father’s death bed (see Genesis 49:8-12).
Are you still brooding over the unjust treatment that you received in time past? Such that it affects your judgment and the way you interact with others. Is your survival strategy to ingratiate yourself to your bosses? The favour of men is arbitrary, unpredictable and at times bitterly unjust. But the favour of God is there for the taking if you consistently choose to do what is right even at great personal costs. God is continually testing your heart through your attitudes and the decisions that you make. God is righteous and will reward you in due time.
Dear Lord, I am committed to do what is right even when no one appreciates. My heart’s desire is to please you in all that I do. Strengthen me when my resolve starts to wane and when I ingratiate myself with people of influence. Cause me to walk in the truth for God and God alone. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.
Genesis 44:1-17 To obtain salvation, one must rise from where he has once fallen
1 Then he commanded his house steward, saying, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. 2 Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph had told him. 3 As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. 4 They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, “Up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Is not this the one from which my lord drinks and which he indeed uses for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.’”
6 So he overtook them and spoke these words to them. 7 They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing. 8 Behold, the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks we have brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? 9 With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.” 10 So he said, “Now let it also be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” 11 Then they hurried, each man lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 He searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city.
14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?” 16 So Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found.” 17 But he said, “Far be it from me to do this. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
Joseph strategises and plans according to the dream to bring his brothers and his father and mother into Egypt. This he does fully trusting in divine wisdom and providence. At the same time, his plans force the brothers to relive the horror that they have brought upon him causing them to acknowledge their transgressions and repent. Today’s devotion teaches us that salvation requires one to rise from where he has once fallen. It is through repentance and sanctification that believers obtain salvation and experience eternal blessings.
Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain.
Joseph’s intention appears conflicted: On one hand he is generous as seen in his filling up the sacks with as much as they can carry while returning the grain money. However, unknown to the brothers, Joseph had hidden his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers, having gotten grain, Simeon and Benjamin supposed that the worst is behind them and they are well on their way home. But, little did they know that the hardest part of the journey is just ahead.
After they had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, Joseph gave instructions to his steward to overtake them. Joseph had them set up for a crime with circumstantial evidence that they could not defend. This time, they would taste how it felt like being unjustly treated and having one’s rights forcibly taken. The steward accused them with unpardonable ingratitude and sacrilege: Why have you repaid evil for good? Is not this the one from which my lord drinks and which he indeed uses for divination? The brothers jointly protested their innocence and offered a wild guarantee: With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves. The silver cup is in fact the symbol of a heinous crime committed against Joseph some 20 years before. Nevertheless, their rash guarantee comes from sheer confidence of innocence of a crime they have grotesquely overlooked and forgotten.
And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes
At the brothers’ word, a search was conducted which yielded the silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers, upon realising the worst that has come upon them tore their clothes. They returned to Egypt and prostrated themselves before Joseph. Judah, in his speech made known their complete bewilderment where he subtly protested their innocence concerning the silver cup: What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? He has also unwittingly confessed to unspecified transgressions that led them to their present plight: God has found out the iniquity of your servants. Here, he offered all the brothers as slaves at Joseph’s service: behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found. In so doing, he undoes the earlier oath to kill the guilty.
The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave.
Joseph responded in demanding only the guilty to be enslaved while releasing the rest to return home. Joseph’s strategem to save Israel is built on the dream itself. And this involves bringing both his parents into Egypt. However, the sticking point remains that the brothers have yet to confess to their crime of selling Joseph into Egypt. Revealing his true identity can strike fear in the brothers causing them to flee and never return. And he will not see his father again, a risk that Joseph will not take. Therefore, Joseph must maintain his cover and do all to bring his father to Egypt as the dream dictates. By imprisoning Benjamin, he can perhaps coerce Jacob into coming to him thus fulfilling the assembly of thirteen as shown in his dream (see Genesis 42:9).
Nevertheless, Joseph’s strategem has also caused the brothers to relive the horror and the injustice that they have brought upon him. In so doing, they are forced to reckon with their transgressions and be sanctified in the process.
To obtain salvation, one must rise from where he has once fallen
There can be no salvation until the brothers acknowledge their transgressions against Joseph some 20 years before. Unless there is repentance, there can be no true peace and blessing in the holy family. Even as abundance awaits them, they will taste none of it until they revisit the place of transgression and rise from where they have fallen. The ostentatious set up and the looming execution of Benjamin, all work towards that outcome. The brothers had encountered a string of dire circumstances which they attributed to none other than the divine hand (see Genesis 42:21). Here, Judah found himself confessing to something beyond the scope of the silver cup crime: God has found out the iniquity of your servants. Indeed, the brothers have finally surrendered to the grip of divine chastisement. This fact, supported by Judah softening his stance towards the silver cup charge attests to their inner transformation. Before Joseph, Judah accepts on behalf of his brothers enslavement for an unspecified sin. By accepting punishment and in surrendering, they have indeed come to a place of repentance and salvation.
That said, why does God harp on their sins requiring them to revisit and repent of past transgressions? This is because only by repentance and sanctification can man experience salvation and eternal blessing. Salvation and eternal blessing are but the fruit of a penitent heart and godly life. Therefore, the believer’s goal is to do God’s will and to acquire His virtues. In so doing, he experiences salvation and eternal blessings for all his endeavours (see figure below).
However, if one focuses on acquiring salvation and blessing as opposed to godliness, he relegates God to a means of fulfilling his desires. The end of which are failures and destruction (see figure below). Such are lured into believing that the wealth and temporal blessing they possess come from God when they actually come from the devil. For the devil keeps them satisfied with wealth and temporal things while blinding them to the destruction that lies ahead.
The church consists of two kinds of people: those who serve and love God supremely while trusting Him to provide. And those who serve and love themselves supremely while relegating God to the place of servanthood. Nevertheless, both groups worship together but each with very different motives: one is God-serving, the other is self-serving. That said, many sincerely professed to love God but are entrapped by all kinds insecurities and sinful passions. For such, God disciplines through dire circumstances so that they may repent and be saved. In love, God brings them to where they have initially fallen so that they may repent and be sanctified.
Are you accustomed to reliving the same kind of failures again and again? Some keep meeting the wrong people and getting hurt repeatedly. Some keep making unwise financial decisions getting burned repeatedly. Whatever the circumstances, you must practice self reflection by returning to the place of failure so that you may learn from your mistakes and repent. Write down a list of set backs that you have experienced in the last 5 years. Can you identify a pattern? It is important that you practice self-reflection and refrain from blaming others. Usually, the causes of failure are attributed to decisions made out of envy and greed. And rash decisions that are usually moved by the heart instead of the Spirit. In many occasions, a wrong word spoken out of bitterness and anger can destroy relationships that took years to build. In self-reflection, revisit the places of transgression and trauma. Ask God to heal your heart of the wounds and regrets that correspond to these places.
Dear Lord, I want to face my failures and transgressions with your grace and strength. So that, I may learn from my mistakes and be sanctified. Forgive me of my many foolish deeds and release me of those memories. Blot out my sins and do the same for those memories. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.
Genesis 43:16-34 A leader must perform the dual roles of provider and disciplinarian
When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his house steward, “Bring the men into the house, and slay an animal and make ready; for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17 So the man did as Joseph said, and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 Now the men were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph’s house; and they said, “It is because of the money that was returned in our sacks the first time that we are being brought in, that he may seek occasion against us and fall upon us, and take us for slaves with our donkeys.” 19 So they came near to Joseph’s house steward, and spoke to him at the entrance of the house, 20 and said, “Oh, my lord, we indeed came down the first time to buy food, 21 and it came about when we came to the lodging place, that we opened our sacks, and behold, each man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full. So we have brought it back in our hand. 22 We have also brought down other money in our hand to buy food; we do not know who put our money in our sacks.” 23 He said, “Be at ease, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. 24 Then the man brought the men into Joseph’s house and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their donkeys fodder. 25 So they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon; for they had heard that they were to eat a meal there.
26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present which was in their hand and bowed to the ground before him. 27 Then he asked them about their welfare, and said, “Is your old father well, of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” They bowed down in homage. 29 As he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, he said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?” And he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother, and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out; and he controlled himself and said, “Serve the meal.” 32 So they served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is loathsome to the Egyptians. 33 Now they were seated before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, and the men looked at one another in astonishment. 34 He took portions to them from his own table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. So they feasted and drank freely with him.
The brothers came back to Egypt with the expectation of having Simeon released and returning home with fresh supplies. But never did they expect to dine with the man and catch a brief insight as to Joseph’s true identity. Here, Joseph performs the dual roles of provider and disciplinarian while keeping his human sentiments at bay. In today’s devotion, we learn that a leader must necessarily perform the dual roles of provider and disciplinarian. And he must learn to set aside his human sentiments in order to lead his people effectively.
“Bring the men into the house, and slay an animal and make ready; for the men are to dine with me at noon.”
The sight of Benjamin triggered notions of brotherly sentiments prompting the instructions to bring the men into the house, and slay an animal… An invitation to dine was not what the brothers had anticipated, for they merely hoped for Simeon’s return and fresh food supplies. They have been given hostile treatment in their first journey and to be given royal treatment now is beyond comprehension. Hence, they were prepared for the worst, to be taken captive and enslaved.
The brothers took hold of the opportunity to explain the mysterious money to exonerate themselves. The house steward reassured them that the mysterious money was in fact a gesture of goodwill and divine provision. The brothers, being relieved of their worst fears entered Joseph’s house and given a warm welcome. They settled down and did their utmost to prepare their gift for the man of the land.
When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present which was in their hand and bowed to the ground before him.
Joseph’s entrance was greeted with homage as the brothers bowed to the ground before him. The disparity in status, power and knowledge between Joseph and his brothers is overwhelmingly graphic. Joseph dominates and surpasses his brothers in every aspect, giving him power over their fate and their very existence. However, we will see the legacy of Judah surpassing that of Joseph in future generations.
This scene presents a discrepancy between the dream where his eleven brothers and his parents bow down to him. No doubt, there is now eleven, but still no parents, which prompts the question, “Is your old father well, of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” When Joseph lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, he spoke warmly and affectionately to them. Just then, his affection towards his younger brother stirred up for he was on the verge of disclosing his private feelings. He excused himself and sought a place to weep. Joseph’s action speaks of his intention to keep his true identity from them. For there is still unresolved issues that required him to assert imperial authority unaffected by human and familial sentiments.
So they feasted and drank freely with him.
Joseph called for the meal to be served. Joseph separated himself from his brothers as was customary, for all foreigners were considered loathsome and inferior to the Egyptians. Nevertheless, surprise turned to amazement when the brothers found themselves seated in the order of their age. By this time, Joseph is seen to be working towards a full disclosure of his true identity allowing the brothers brief insight into his true identity. A bigger portion for young Benjamin consummated his longing to discharge his brotherly duty that was abruptly taken from him. He took portions to them from his own table signals the crossing over to familial territory towards brotherly fellowship. Under divine providence, the formerly fractured family emerged a bonded family beaming with integrity, and love. “So they feasted and drank freely with him” speaks of an endearing peace among themselves. And the scene is set for the assembling of the remaining two: Joseph’s parents.
A leader must perform the dual roles of provider and disciplinarian
God has called His leaders to shepherd His flock with skilful hands by performing the dual roles of provider and disciplinarian. By virtue of man’s tendency towards sin, discipline is necessary as part of the leader’s toolbox. Without the mandate to discipline which entails suffering, man will not learn to put off the inclinations of the flesh.
Joseph is tasked to heal the fractured family and their moral decline by acting as disciplinarian. At the same time, he provided for their physical needs and saved the family from the famine. So much so his actions appear conflicted and incoherent; he is harsh at one moment and friendly at the another. And without warning, he was again harsh and unreasoning. Although the two roles appear contrived and irreconcilable, they head in the same direction. The two roles are likened to two rails of a train track, they are separated but connected, working in synergy.
There is a grave misconception among the churches that the incarnation of Jesus has put an end to the discipline of God; the cross has once and for all nullified the demands of the law. These churches insist that in the dispensation of grace, God, the Judge has been eclipsed by Jesus, the Saviour. Thus, they misrepresented Jesus as having come to appease the angry God by taking the punishment on humanity’s behalf.
Unfortunately, this doctrinal error has contributed to much confusion among church leaders concerning the nature of their leadership. But the bible is explicitly clear that in the last days, Jesus will come to judge His people. Jesus said,
“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son… and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” John 5:22,27
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10
Indeed, Jesus will continue to function as Saviour and Judge, as Provider and Disciplinarian to His people and humanity at large. Thus, it is important to understand that God has called all leaders and disciple makers to be vessels of both divine provision and discipline. And He discharges His roles through His faithful servants in the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, Moses is given authority to judge, Jesus said to them, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.” John 5:45.
Jesus said that His followers will sit on thrones to judge the world (see Matthew 19:28). The early church saw the apostles performing the role of disciplinarians. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5:1-11), the death of the couple has brought the fear of God to the people because of the discipline. Luke recorded,
And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things… But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people… And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number. Acts 5:11-14.
It is evident that the famine brought on by God, and the skilful discipline brought on by Joseph have sanctified and united the holy family.
That said, the human tendency is to play the role of provider while relinquishing the role of disciplinarian to God. However, spiritual authority involves giving and taking (see Job 1:21). A leader cannot choose to give while refusing to take away. Nevertheless, as a leader matures in love and wisdom, God entrusts to him divine authority to provide as well as to discipline so that the people may yield the blessed fruit of righteousness (see Hebrews 12:11).
Nevertheless, performing dual roles (of provider and disciplinarian) requires divine wisdom and discernment. Usually, when a christian no longer listens to sound advice or heed the calls of repentance, the shepherd must proceed with disciplinarian measures. This, he does through divine discernment, and by the expressed directives of God. This can be observed in the days of Elijah when God instructed him to pray for famine to come upon Israel and there was no rain for three years (see 1 Kings 17:1). This can also be seen when Paul delivers immoral christians to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 5:5). Jesus Himself said that “it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:30.
Leadership requires the setting aside of human sentiments
That said, why is it important to set aside human sentiments when exercising leadership? We exhibit sentiments by virtue of our humanity. Human sentiments are legitimate in that it function as glue connecting people to one another. And they facilitate peace and harmony within the community. However, human sentiments must operate on the foundations of truth and obedience. That is why human sentiments must at times be put aside whenever truth and obedience to divine directives are violated.
Joseph is seen struggling with his human sentiments while he discharges his roles as provider and disciplinarian, as saviour and judge for the holy family. For him to rule and to continue to demand absolute obedience, he has to put aside concerns of human relationship and maintain his imperial appearance. When his heart throbbed at the sight of young Benjamin, he has to keep his head by retreating to his inner chamber. Human relationships, for the unskilled hinders leadership and is mutually exclusive. For them, the closer they get to the people, the harder it is to demand obedience. This is because divine wisdom is at most times counter intuitive to human reasoning. And the exercise of authority diametrically opposed to the grain of relationships. Discipline is more than often misconstrued as an act of hostility rather than an act of love. But God disciplines the one he loves and chastises all his sons (see Hebrews 12:6).
That said, human sentiments when put in its right place need not hinder our work as shepherds and leaders to His people. A good example will be the doctor and patient relationship. Everyone knows that a surgeon inflicts a wound so that the sick may be healed. Therefore, it is pertinent for leaders of the church to teach and to set the right expectations concerning their roles. In so doing, all relationships are placed in a right setting useful for discipline towards holiness and lasting prosperity.
As a parent or leader in your community, do you choose between the roles depending on who you are dealing with? This is because you are driven by human sentiments rather than by divine wisdom. To those who are important you, you gravitate towards the provider role because you are afraid to offend them. But to those who are weaker and less important, you to take the disciplinarian approach because they can be dispensed of. If you display such traits, you are easily manipulated and cannot be entrusted with divine authority.
You can begin by trying to understand how God deals with you: In what situation is He ever a provider? And in what situation is He a disciplinarian? Allow God to speak the truth to you in love through the word. When you have seen the fruits of His discipline, and have benefitted from it, you can begin to play the dual roles of provider and disciplinarian. Your children and disciples will begin to love God more and to fear Him because of your loving discipline.
Dear Lord, I thank you for providing for me and chastising me when I have strayed. Teach me divine wisdom and help me to feel secure in your love. Teach me to play dual roles of provider and disciplinarian in my family, in my workplace and in my church. Entrust me with wisdom and authority to regenerate my people. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.
Matthew 21:23-32 The one who believes in Christ will also live as He lived
23 When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” 27 And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.
The Jewish leaders, being envious of Jesus’s popularity confronted Jesus while He was teaching in the temple. They questioned His authority through which He healed the sick, cleansed the temple and taught the people. Jesus answered them conscientiously by asking them concerning the authority of John the baptist. Here, Jesus reveals the root of their evil, which is their desire to dominate others. Today’s devotion teaches us that one who believes in Christ will also live as He lived. And the authenticity of any ministry is shown by its effectiveness in transforming lives.
“By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”
Jesus, while teaching at the temple was interrupted by the chief priests and elders of the people. These high temple officials and head of influential families approached Jesus in an attempt to vilify Him and to invalidate His ministry. Jesus’s teachings had encroached on the Jewish leadership where He confronted them on many occasions:
Jesus said to them, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors ME with their lips, but their heart is far away from ME. Matthew 15:7-9
Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27-28
The Jewish leaders were harping on the fact that Jesus had no backing from the de facto Jewish establishment. And by virtue of the fact that Jesus’s followers were uneducated and insignificant, Jesus had no authority to do “these things”. “These things” refers to Jesus’s teachings, miraculous healings and the cleansing of the temple. Jesus’s response was intended on exposing a critical deficiency in the Jewish beliefs; He was not deflecting attention away from Himself to John the Baptist.
“The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?”
By that time, John the Baptist was already beheaded. Here, Jesus asserted that if they would not recognise John’s divine authority, then they would also not recognise His divine authority. To recognise Jesus’s divine authority is equivalent to acknowledging Him as the divine-human; as God coming in the flesh. Jesus has said in no uncertain terms that He is God in human form: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30). While John’s baptism carried the call of repentance, Jesus came to put His divinity within man so that man may live the divine life. It follows that any man who does not acknowledge Christ as the divine-human cannot receive His divine life or eternal life. However, repentance is the requisite to believing Jesus as the divine-human. Without repentance, faith in Jesus is meaningless. Paul said,
“John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” Acts 19:4
Nevertheless, the Jews reasoned rigorously among themselves but could find no way to discredit Jesus. Hence, to avoid public embarrassment and the wrath of the people they abstained from answering Jesus’s question.
A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’
The Jewish leaders had wanted to manipulate Jesus into confessing His true identity so that they may prosecute Him with blasphemy (see John 10:24). However, Jesus not only evaded their attempt to ensnare Him, He turned the tables on them, exposing their spiritual blindness. Jesus pressed in firmly, “But what do you think?…” He presented a parable of two sons, who upon the request from the father to work in the vineyard displayed contrasting behaviours. The first son instinctively rejected the father’s request but changed his mind and went. The other son verbally agreed to go but never showed up. Jesus invited the Jews to comment on the two sons, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” The Jews answered rightly that it was the first son that obeyed. Jesus seized the opportunity to hit home the truth, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.” The shock value of Jesus’s words can be appreciated from the fact that the Jewish leaders despised the tax collectors and the prostitutes and treated them as scums. Here, Jesus grants these scums of the society, who say no to God, but repent to do God’s will rightful entry into God’s kingdom. But the Jewish leaders who explicitly say yes to God but did not do what He says, and therefore fail to enter. The parable asserts that it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. Romans 2:13. The religious authorities portray an appearance of righteousness but reject the righteousness that John stands for. They did not believe in John’s baptism even after seeing the tax collectors and prostitutes coming to repentance. The Jewish leaders are in the eyes of Jesus despicable because they do not look to the repentance of sinners, but are inclined to use religion to dominate others.
One who acknowledges Jesus as the divine-human will also live as He lived.
The reverse is true that one who does not endeavour to live as He lived denies Jesus as the divine-human. The reason that God was incarnated as a human being, is to lay the path of salvation for man to follow. This He did by overcoming His sinful human weakness and subsequently God glorified His humanity. The way Jesus lived His life shows the continual process of regeneration towards godliness. That said, salvation is never the believer’s goal, but continual repentance and regeneration is. Jesus asserts that unless they receive John’s baptism of repentance, they can never come to acknowledge Him as God and Lord. To acknowledge Jesus as God and Saviour without repentance is like marrying for the purpose of material benefits and convenience, which is no better than a gold digger.
That is why John the baptist must come on the scene before the Messiah appears. Those who think that faith in Christ has granted them irrevocable salvation without the need for continual regeneration towards godliness are misinformed. And those who suppose that justification comes through hearing the gospel alone are delusional. Jesus proclaimed in the Beatitudes that “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8. Indeed, without continual repentance, no one can see God.
That said, how can one be assured of his salvation? A believer is assured when he sees evidences of the divine life in himself; when he loves not with words but in works. The apostle John said,
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 1 John 3:18-20
That said, God does not punish us for the sins we do not support or intend on repeating. Even when our heart condemns us, God alone knows if we truly love Him and desire the truth. Nevertheless, if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.
The authenticity of any ministry is shown by its effectiveness in transforming lives.
Jesus, by asking the Jews concerning the source of John’s authority was indirectly endorsing His ministry. What is the distinctive of John’s ministry that warrants Christ’s commendation? By virtue of the fact that many tax collectors and prostitutes believed him and repented of their ways.
Many ministries prided themselves on their mass appeal. They graded themselves by the size of their buildings, popularity and financial resources. The question is: how many in their congregation has experienced transformation and living the abundant life?! Abundant life is characterised by the following:
- Shame -> Glory
- Poverty -> Prosperity
- Sorrow -> Joy
- Sickness -> Health
- Violence -> Peace
- Death -> Eternal Life
- Hatred -> Love
- Failure -> Fruitfulness
The fact is: many continue to live in the shame of sin refusing to give up its pleasures. They did not experience breakthrough in their finances, because they love money more than God. And the love of money pierced them with many sorrows. Such are continually plagued with sicknesses and violence is a common place. Yet they continue to frequent the churches that keep them hoping for breakthroughs without the need for regeneration. They are deceived into thinking that all is well. Yet destruction is nearer than ever.
The gospel of Christ is focused on regeneration as opposed to salvation and blessing. What brings salvation and blessing is not more assurances of God’s promises, but rather the preaching of the truth that results in the regeneration of the heart and change of lifestyle.
Are you preoccupied with the cares of life or with knowing the truth and living it out? A life focused on the word may seem counter intuitive, but it will bring unimaginable blessings and significance. Start by discovering for yourself what God said in His word and be committed to obey Him daily. Be focused on making the small changes in your life. Do not despise the small beginnings, for they will soon bring exponential results.
Ministers must focus on bringing change to their congregations as opposed to appealing to their desire for good news and good feelings. As a minister you must do following:
- repent from your secret sins and do God’s will beginning with yourself and your family.
- be serious in studying the word systematically to understand the truths and apply them to yourself.
- stop motivating the congregation to keep them coming but teach the truth the way Jesus taught it. Be prepared to lose them if they do not like to listen to the truth.
- draw near to God and experience Him first hand rather than use other people’s testimonies.
- tear up your peace treaty with the devil and evict him out of your house and your church.
- subject your life to the scrutiny of your family and your congregation.
- be real and stop putting up a false front of optimism and holiness.
Dear Lord, I acknowledge you as God, who came in the flesh to show me the way of salvation so that I may walk in it. Empower me daily to live the divine life through your Spirit. Regenerate me so that I may experience divine glory, prosperity, joy, health, peace, love and fruitfulness in all my endeavours. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.