The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 12


Faith Speaks.

“By faith Joseph,” continues the Hebrews 11 account, “when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” An emigration and an exhumation is an unlikely pairing for a dying valediction. What was Joseph, great grandson of Abraham, thinking?

The end of life—like the end of a good novel—has a way of clarifying the most important things to us. To Joseph, it served to supply a final opportunity to speak hope to his loved ones—the descendants of his father Israel who were living in Egypt with him, far from their Promised Land. If Joseph had learned one thing in his long and challenging life, it was that God’s plans are for our good, even when everything around us seems to be stacking up against us. That’s a lesson some people would never learn unless someone like Joseph were to speak out.

Some ninety years earlier, Joseph had been bullied and sold into slavery by the brothers to whom he now spoke. Enslaved in Egypt, the angry treachery of his master’s wife had then sent Joseph to the pharaoh’s dungeon. Kindnesses to other prisoners were repaid to Joseph with thoughtless indifference. Joseph was forgotten by all.

But somewhere in the midst of the darkness of his life experience, Joseph remembered what God had said. He remembered the promise God had spoken to his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. It was a promise that God was working for his—Joseph’s—good and the good of all who honoured God from their heart. Like a piercing ray of light, this word, this call of God on his life, brought Joseph hope.

And later Joseph began to see God using him to bring hope into others’ lives, including those brothers who had begun the terrible chain of events Joseph had suffered. “You intended to harm me,” he would later summarize for his guilt-ridden brothers, “but God intended it for good.”

Now Joseph had one more opportunity to speak. He could have used it to bitterly berate his family members for their cruelty to him resulting in so many years of his youth being lost to slavery. He could have used it to take credit for the personal skills that led to his release from prison. He could have used it to flaunt the power and prestige to which he had eventually risen in Egypt. Rather, Joseph’s words reveal that his heart was set on something bigger, something much more important, something of eternal value. Joseph was now thinking of the distant future. He was visualizing God’s promises fulfilled.

God had promised the Israelites a land of their own. He had promised to bless them. More than that, He had promised to bless all nations on earth through them. And most notably, He had promised to send a unique Someone through the Hebrew family line who would reverse the ancient curse produced in Eden by humanity’s inaugural sin.

Although Joseph knew he would not live to see the day these promises would be fulfilled, he had two reasons in mind when he spoke the message captured in Hebrews 11. Firstly, Joseph believed God’s call on individuals’ lives to be authoritative—both practically and spiritually; Joseph understood every event of his life to be a concatenation—at series of connected events—through which God’s call and promise would be fulfilled. Without Joseph’s enslavement there would have been no inroad into an Egyptian prison. Without the prison, there would have been no opportunity to serve the Pharaoh. And without serving the Pharaoh, Joseph’s family back in Palestine would have perished when the years of drought wreaked their havoc. Looking back over his life, Joseph was able to see that God’s seemingly distant promises had influenced Joseph’s day-to-day opportunities to be faithful. So when Joseph’s final words reminded his people that God would be true to his promise to lead them to their Promised Land, he was passing the baton on, so to speak. He was encouraging them to remain hopeful, faithful and true to God.

Secondly, Joseph believed that God’s call involved inexplicable hints that life was designed to be eternal. He knew the oral tradition told by his ancestors. It spoke of death as a post-scripted addendum to God’s original plan for human life. Had there been no sin there would have been no death. So while Joseph knew with certainty that he, like his ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would die he wanted to make a final statement on behalf of God’s original plan for an undying humanity. He wanted his bones to be brought to the Promised Land because if God’s plan some day included reinstituting eternal non-dying life—if there was Someone who would initiate a resurrection—Joseph wanted to be in on it.

That is what faith in God’s call speaks. It speaks of God taking the difficult events of your and my faith-filled lives and turning them into good. It speaks of a resurrection to eternal life. It speaks of Jesus. This is how faith has and will speak. Are you letting it speak through you?

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus


Day 1: Riddle Explained

We all love a riddle. Author J.R.R. Tolkien gives us one in the story of The Hobbit when Bilbo Baggins and Gollum contend in a battle of wits. “Thirty white horses on a red hill,” begins Bilbo, “first they champ, then they stamp, then they stand still.”

The answer is teeth.

Riddling goes back a long way. Norse mythology included riddles such as this: “Four hang, four sprang, two point the way, two to ward off dogs, one dangles after, always rather dirty. What am I?” Familiarity with a more agricultural environment might help with this one. The answer is: a cow.

There are riddles in the Bible too. Samson’s riddle (“Out of the eater something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet”—answer: honey from a honeycomb built in the carcass of a dead lion), posed to his Philistine wedding party, became the unhappy cause of the failure of his new marriage. But only one riddle has had the power to change the story of earth and its inhabitants for unimaginable good.

Isaiah, prophet of the eighth century B.C., spoke of a “sign” that would signal God’s plan to bring freedom to earth’s inhabitants. “The virgin will be with child,” he began, “and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Many of us have heard this riddle so often it fails to carry the impact it would have had to those first listeners. There are two puzzling situations described: a pregnant virgin, and a child called “God” (Immanuel meaning “God with us”).

In the opening verses of Matthew’s account of the life and times of Jesus, this ancient riddle is remembered. The virgin is a girl named Mary. The embryo growing in her womb is not only a product of chromosomes contributed by the Holy Spirit, but the baby boy is God Himself, come in the flesh to experience humanity firsthand. The riddle is explained after eight hundred years.

But even in the first scene of Matthew’s gospel account of the life and times of Jesus a new riddle is announced. It is delivered to Joseph, the young man who will take Mary home as his wife, fully knowing of her pregnant condition and trusting she is still a virgin. This riddle is meant to console him, no doubt. It’s not the fairy-tale beginning of a marriage he had imagined when he first dreamed of wedding this girl. Joseph’s plans have been sidelined by God’s bigger plan for Joseph’s role as husband and foster father. Joseph is directed to prepare to name the baby boy ‘Yeshua’ (‘Jesus’ in English) because the name means ‘the LORD saves’—“because he will save his people from their sins.”

This is the riddle that concerns us today. Day One of coming alongside the earthly life of Jesus finds every one of us transported into the midst of the riddle concerning Him. We are the people. Every person is an integral part of the race of humanity created by God, and according to the riddle we need to be saved. We are on some downward spiral to destruction apart from what Jesus came to accomplish for us.

Subsequent days of exploring Matthew’s biography of Jesus will show us more—will help us observe what is recorded about Jesus’ life, show us how He lived, tell us what He actually said. Why are we interested? Because those who discover the truth behind the best of riddles have gained wisdom that is of great value in life; the riddle concerning Jesus and us is no ordinary riddle.

Jesus, grant us the grace to understand the riddle of your intentions for us, we the people You have created. Enable us to have hearts fully open to grasping the truth of your life; give us minds open to insight into our own situation of needing to be saved. We call on You to inhabit our twenty-eight day journey alongside You. Amen.

(Photo Credit: “Laughing Boy” by Josh Giovo from USA – Little Bugger. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast

Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Christmas Treasure (Luke 2:15-35)


The baby has arrived. Mary has nursed him and now lies resting. Joseph has taken the gauzy cloths from around his own waist, traveller’s garb in case of unexpected death on a journey, and with it swaddles Mary’s tiny son. Lined with fresh hay, the cave’s manger becomes a cradle for the infant. Humble beginnings. As the first light of dawn chases away all but the brightest of stars a small group of shepherds arrive, breathless with excitement. They pause at the cave’s door; will the sign given by the angel be as he said? Does the Messiah lie within?


After hearing their incredible story Joseph wakes Mary and admits the visitors. He tells her they are looking for a baby in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. ‘How did they know?’ her eyes silently ask. At first sight of the baby they fall to their knees in wonder, worshiping God. Murmurs of praise rise from their lips. Why has the Almighty One chosen them to be the first to witness such a prophecy’s fulfillment? Great treasure lies before them. The Messiah, Savior of the people, has finally come!


Now, forty days have passed since the baby’s birth. He has been named Jeshua–‘Yahweh Saves’ (Jesus) as the angel directed. With two pigeons in hand, Joseph arrives in Jerusalem with his young family, making the required offering to redeem and consecrate a firstborn son. Entering the temple courtyard they are greeted by an old man, eyes blazing with a holy fire. He wants to hold this baby and none other, so Mary transfers Jesus carefully into the aged arms. Trembling, the old man gazes at the child he holds. What treasure! Tears course down his face and into his white beard as he raises his voice to heaven.


“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”


Simeon’s prayer is one of grateful thanksgiving. As a conduit of the Spirit of God, he speaks of a prophecy fulfilled, a promise realized, a salvation prepared for all people. He sees beyond the simple garb of the baby’s parents; they bring the lesser sacrifice of pigeons because they cannot afford a lamb. Simeon’s aged, watery eyes see in this child salvation for mankind, glory for the people Israel, and light for a world of people God wants to bless. He holds in his arms God incarnate, Immanuel.


“Now dismiss your servant in peace”, he prays. Nothing greater in life can compare; he has held the Christ of God and he is ready for the Holy One to take him home.


Simeon’s prayer has something for us today. It reminds us that God is faithful. His promises are given so that we will take them seriously. We, like old Simeon, will only have eyes to see His Treasure as we ponder His promises and wait. Breathless, hopeful faith, the kind that puts all ones eggs in one basket is the kind of faith we must set before ourselves. The promises involving Jesus are many. We need to become obsessed with them, ponder them, praying for their fulfillment in our lives. Then we, like the shepherds, like Mary and Joseph, and like the old man Simeon, will honour Jesus as the greatest treasure of all time and beyond.


We bless you, Sovereign Lord, for keeping your promise to us. Thank you for giving us the priceless gift of Jesus. He is truly our salvation, the light of revelation and of glory. This is Your treasure, Your Christmas gift to us. Thank you.




Light on a Dark Night (Luke 2:1-14)

Months have passed and Mary’s time to deliver is imminent. Her wedding must have been unusual—a pregnant bride claiming to be a virgin; she and Joseph have commenced married life in small town Nazareth amidst the whispers of neighbours and disappointed glances of in-laws. When the Roman prefect announced the Emperor’s edict to enforce a census, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Now she and Joseph are traveling to the urban centre to register themselves. The dictate makes no room for extenuating circumstances. An imminent birth simply means one more Jew the Romans can tax.

The newlyweds are feeling more than taxed. They are overwhelmed by the stresses of the past months, and now, weary travelers, they look for a place to rest their aching feet. It seems a cave behind a noisy inn is the best they can find. Joseph clears away barn-like debris and spreads sweet-smelling hay to make a cushioned bed-pallet for them. Mary’s labour-pains pierce the stillness of the night. She catches a look in Joseph’s fearful eyes and feels the despair of the moment. Where is God now? Has He abandoned them in their greatest need? Is this what it means to be a servant of God?

They cannot yet see that in that simple cave-stable, a golden thread is being stitched into the complex tapestry of God’s plans for the world. The embroidering needle pierces the canvas with every stitch (Mary and Joseph wince with each threading) but the beauty of the finished work will be nothing less than stunning.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me 
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2). Plans for this moment were laid long before the foundation of the world. Prophecies have spoken of it for centuries. The Ancient of Days becomes one of us, and it is happening this dark night.

I guess most of us can relate to moments like that. Life’s challenges and difficulties seem to descend upon us with suffocating weight at times. We are discouraged, frustrated and hurting, unable to find hope in our impossible plight. Good things seem to come to others, but we are stuck in a cave in the dark, feeling agonies worse than any labour pains.

I love how this story goes. Do you remember the shepherds who are also in the dark some miles away, watching over their sheep under the vast night sky? An eons-old promise God made to Abraham one other starry night is being fulfilled, and the shepherds will be the first to know. Flashes of light fill the sky as celestial messengers announce the birth of God’s Messiah to these simple farming folk.

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Read that with exclamation marks throughout its staggering message. Read it again. Here’s the amazing news: Fear is conquered. Great joy replaces it like flashes of light on a dark night. We are rescued from our plight not merely by a plan but by a person—the very Son of God, born to us, not just to Mary and Joseph.

“The people walking in darkness
 have seen a great light; 
on those living in the land of deep darkness 
a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

Let’s enter into the Christmas spirit, and let His Spirit enter into us. That baby was Mary’s son, He is God’s Son, but Good news of great joy He is ours too. He is ready to be everything to anyone who will accept Him as Savior. Admit it. Let His light dawn in the very core of your being. This is the message of Christmas.


photo credit: <a href=””>Paul Kline</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;