So today, finally, we get to begin 12th Book of Genesis, the last Book of Genesis, which is  the account of Jacob’s family line.
So this Book is the story of Jacob…and his sons. And just as we have found with many of the previous Books of Genesis, even though this Book is really named after Jacob, the father, most of the action is going to be centered around a conflict between his sons — specifically: a conflict between two of his sons: Judah, and Joseph.
And Moses laid the foundation of this conflict back in Book 9, which was the story of Isaac and his sons: Esau and Jacob.
That book also began with a conflict: the brothers fighting with each other over who would inherit their father’s authority and their father’s blessing, a conflict that was made even worse when Isaac decided to love one son more than the other — and these sins ended up destroying the family.
Now, Book 9 did end well, with the father and his two estranged sons reunited at last among the highest mountains of Canaan, outside the city of Hebron, at the tomb of their ancestor Abraham. But in the moments leading up to that end, Moses hinted that the very same conflict was brewing among Jacob’s 12 sons: a conflict over who was going to inherit their father’s authority and blessing.
Basically, the conflict in every generation is this: someone has to take over as head of the family after the father dies.
And really this should be an easy conflict to resolve, because — traditionally — the oldest son inherits that authority.
Unfortunately, Jacob’s oldest son Reuben disqualified himself by trying to seize power from his father.
Reuben essentially proved that, if he was ever promoted into a position of authority, he would abuse that authority. So: not a good idea to make him the next head-of-household.
And — even more unfortunately — sons #2 and 3 have also disqualified themselves by trying to win back their family’s damaged reputation through violence and murder.
Essentially they also proved that, if they were ever promoted to positions of authority, they would also abuse that authority, using violence and murder to enforce their desires.
But no problem, right? We just move on to son #4: Judah.
Except that, unfortunately, there is more than one oldest son in the family:
Judah is the son of Leah, Jacob’s senior wife. So he has the strongest legal claim to the position.
But Joseph is the oldest son of Rachel, Jacob’s junior wife. Legally speaking, Joseph has a lower status than Judah. But, Jacob loved his junior wife more than he loved his senior wife. So if Joseph plays the game right, he could persuade his father to promote him over his brother Judah.
And now, just to add one more layer of complexity to this situation, we have to realize that this particular conflict between these brothers is not just about who is going to inherit their father’s position — it is also about who is going to be the father of Israel’s future kings.
Now, these brothers do not necessarily know that, but we do. Because back at the end of Book 9, God promised Jacob that kings would be among his descendants. And the question Moses left us asking at that point was: which brother is going to be the father of the kings of Israel?
And this explains why it is so important, here in Book 12, for Jacob’s sons to prove that they can handle power and authority properly, because sons inherit their father’s nature.
So, for instance, Reuben had a lust for power; he would have produced a line of power-mad kings.
Levi and Simeon — sons #2 and 3 — were violent men; they would have produced a line of murderous kings.
And this brings us down to Judah and Joseph. And the question Moses wants us to be asking as we head into Book 12 here is this: which of these brothers is going to prove that he is a good man, worthy of becoming the father of Israel’s kings?
Let’s find out!
So this is the setting: Jacob has finally found a measure of peace after his long exile in the east. He has settled down on his grandfather’s property outside the city of Hebron, one of the highest places in the land of Canaan. He is a prosperous businessman, his family is growing, life is finally perfect.
And then Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.
So right away Moses confirms for us that political maneuvering was a problem in this family.
Jacob, it seems, has divided his business into at least two massive flocks. One flock is watched by the sons of Leah, the senior sons of the senior wife. The second flock is watched by the sons of Bihah and Zilpah, the most junior sons of the most junior wives.
But instead of sending Joseph to work under the authority of Judah and the senior sons, Jacob has sent Joseph to have authority over the most junior sons.
That is what this ornate robe symbolizes: Jacob has promoted his seventeen year old son Joseph to management. Basically, Joseph is going to work in a suit and tie and Italian loafers, while all his brothers have to wear blue jeans and work-boots.
And…this is simply another example of how sons inherit their father’s nature. Isaac loved one son more than the other, and it destroyed his family! Here we find Jacob making the exact same mistake — which is going to end up destroying his family in the exact same way.
Really, Jacob should have known better, based on his own family history.
But even without that family history, Jacob should have known better. I mean: first of all, promoting one of the youngest brothers over the heads of his older brothers is a recipe for disaster just by itself. Second of all, putting a seventeen year old boy in charge of anything is probably a mistake.
And, sure enough, right away we discover that seventeen year old Joseph has not yet learned how to win friends and influence people. Clearly, Jacob is grooming Joseph to inherit the Head of Household position, and he knew that his junior sons — the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah — were actually Joseph’s potential supporters. If Joseph had managed his brothers kindly and well, he might have won them over to his side, especially if the most senior sons tended to bully the most junior sons — which seems likely.
But Joseph is clearly not ready for management. Instead of taking responsibility and resolving personnel issues by himself, he runs home and complains to daddy.
And the result of all this is exactly what we would expect:  When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Well done, Jacob. Well done, Joseph. Together you have succeeded in uniting your broken family…by making sure they all hate the same guy.
That is…progress, I suppose?
But it doesn’t end there:  Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had:  We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
 His brothers said to him, “Uhhhhh huh. A bit stuck on ourselves, are we?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
But  when he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”
Wow. So now Joseph has single-handedly united the entire family against him.
 His brothers were jealous of him, but…his father kept the matter in mind.
Because Jacob knows that dreams can sometimes be a message from God. And two similar dreams in a row make that even more likely. And, no doubt, Jacob is remembering that once upon a time he also was a younger son who ended up being promoted ahead of his older brother — and that God arranged it that way.
So Jacob has decided to reserve judgement and see how things play out.
 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem.
And this makes sense, because Jacob owns property there as well: the plot of ground he bought from the Shechemites for 100 pieces of silver.
But Shechem is also the site of the worst mass-murder in Jacob’s family history. So that name “Shechem” also carries a pretty dark reminder of what Jacob’s sons are willing to do when they feel disrespected. The name itself is a warning.
Well, apparently Jacob does not hear that warning: he sends his son Joseph to check up on them. Because — you know — how is the kid gonna learn if he doesn’t get more chances to screw up?
But when Joseph arrives at Shechem, his brothers are nowhere to be found.
So what Joseph do? Does he put together an organized plan for searching the region?
No. He wanders around aimlessly, like any seventeen year old would in that situation.
Verse 15: a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”
 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”
 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”
And this little interlude about Joseph wandering and the man helping him is very strange. Why didn’t Moses just skip this? It really does not add anything to the story.
Except that we know Moses does not like to waste paper and ink. So this episode must be significant in some way…
And sure enough, when we take a closer look we realize that Moses is drawing parallels to earlier episodes in Genesis:
Back when Jacob was first running away from his brother Esau, he also was “wandering around” — Moses uses the same words there — and God met Jacob on his way out of the land. Then, later, when Jacob was on his way back in, “a man” met him — same words, again — a man who turned out to be God himself.
So Moses is pointing out that Joseph is following in the footsteps of his father Jacob. He is wandering around at random, about to leave the land and have the worst experiences of his life…and God meets him there. In fact, God gives him directions.
And the idea that this “man” was actually God giving Joseph directions is a very old interpretation, it can be traced back to Christianity’s earliest teachers.
But a lot of people over the years have really struggled to accept this, because…look: that would mean that God himself directed Joseph into disaster and slavery instead of helping him escape! Surely if this man was God, he would have told Joseph, “Look, your brothers are in Dothan, but trust me: you do not want to visit them!”
But if we are going to believe that God should have warned Joseph…then we would have to go back and question everything. For instance, why didn’t God tell Jacob, “Hey look, you’re about to end up in slavery to your uncle for the next 20 years. You’d better gostan!” Why didn’t God tell Isaac, “Hey, don’t marry Rebekah, she’s just going to end up despising you!” For that matter, why didn’t God just tell Abraham, “Stay home! Don’t travel to the land I have chosen for you, it’s just going to result in years and years of heartache and uncertainty for you and your descendants!”
This is a classic misunderstanding of who God is and how he works in the world. God does not exist to make our lives easy, trouble-free. In fact, God knows that if he made our lives easy and trouble-free we would all turn into rotten children. Joseph is a good example of this himself! Clearly he has been promoted too quickly to a position of authority that he cannot handle properly. If God does not intervene and undo Jacob’s foolishness, if God does not intervene and cut Joseph back down to his proper size…that kid will turn into a monster! — just like his brothers Reuben, Levi, and Simeon already have.
So as we read this and realize that this “man” is the Angel of the Lord directing Joseph down the path toward slavery, we are not supposed to say, “Oh no! God would never do that!” Instead, what Moses wants us to realize is that God is committed to making sure Joseph descends into the valley of death and slavery — for Joseph’s own sake! — but that God is also going to travel with Joseph into that dark valley — just as he did with his father Jacob.
This strange little interlude is meant to reassure us that God is with Joseph no matter what may come.
So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan.
 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.  “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other.  “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
But the oldest son, Reuben, comes to his senses first. “Let’s not take his life,” he said.  “Yes, it is a good idea to throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but let’s not kill him first. That way he’ll die slowly of thirst or starvation, and we can honestly say we did not shed his blood!”
Reuben said this because he was planning to come back later to rescue Joseph and take him back to his father.
And many people have wondered why Reuben has suddenly developed this tender heart for Joseph and for his father Jacob. Isn’t this the same guy who tried to steal power from his father and disqualified himself for leadership in the family?
But that is probably why Reuben speaks up like this. First, he wants to re-assert his leadership over his brothers. Second, he wants to win back his father’s approval, and perhaps be officially restored to his proper status as oldest son.
 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—  and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
And I should explain what a cistern is:
A cistern in this part of the world is a cave that has been dug straight down into the limestone, designed to collect rain-water. It has a narrow opening, like a well, that can be covered with a rock. But when you got down inside you would discover that the neck opens up into a huge room, a huge cave. In the rainy seasons it would be full of water; in the dry seasons it would be full of…mud.
We know this because, later on, Jeremiah the prophet was thrown into a cistern like this, and we are told that he sunk into the mud at the bottom.
So: clearly, an unpleasant experience.
But the brothers are immune to his sufferings: they decide they are hungry now after all that strenuous exercise. But  as they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
Now, the city of Shechem stood alongside a major highway. So caravans would have been a common sight.
But what is unique about this caravan is that it is owned by Ishmaelites. In other words: the men managing this caravan are second and third cousins to these sons of Jacob. Ishmael is their grandfather’s brother, their grand-uncle.
And this detail also shows God’s hand at work. Because, as soon as these brothers recognize that these traders are Ishmaelites, they should remember that, once upon a time, Ishmael also had a conflict with his brother Isaac — and that Ishmael was rejected by God.
So God is, in fact, offering these brothers a reminder of their own family history. This is a warning to them, a call to repent of what they are about to do!
But just like their father Jacob, these brothers do not hear the warning:  Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?  Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
And now we find out that Reuben was not around for that last part:  When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes.  He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”
And this reveals two things to us:
First, it confirms that Reuben’s motivation for saving Joseph was selfish. When he finds the boy gone, he does not say, “Oh no, what has happened to him?” Instead, he says, “Oh no, what is going to happen to me?”
Second, we realize that Judah spoke up with his proposal while the oldest brother Reuben was not around. In other words: Judah is also playing politics. He doesn’t care about saving Joseph’s life — he wants to further undermine Reuben’s status by asserting his own leadership over his brothers. By proposing a “better” idea than Reuben’s, and then perrsuading the rest of the brothers to agree with him, Judah is basically putting together a ruling coalition within the family, with himself as eventual Prime Minister of course.
So they sell their brother for 20 pieces of silver — which was the standard price at the time for a healthy young man under the age of 20.
 Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.  They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”
 He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”
And so we find out here that the sons are even more gifted at deception than their father was.
When Jacob went in to deceive his father by wearing his brother’s clothing, he actually spoke out loud and lied directly to Isaac — and almost got caught because of it!
But when these sons go in to deceive their father with their brother’s clothing, they just keep quiet and let their father draw his own false conclusions.
 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days.  All his sons and daughters — and this is where we find out that Dinah was not Jacob’s only daughter — all his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave. ” So his father wept for him.
 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.
So, now we come to the part of the sermon where we ask what this means. What was Moses trying to teach his people through this episode?
Well, we have already seen that Moses’ focus in writing Genesis is shifting slightly here.
Early on in Genesis, in the Books about the Creation and the Fall and the Flood, Moses was focused on helping his people understand why and how God led them out of the land of Egypt.
Later, in the Books of Abraham and Isaac, Moses was focused on helping his people understand how God was going to lead them into the land of Canaan, and what they were supposed to do when they got there.
Now, in this closing Book of Jacob, Moses is shifting his focus to who is going to rule over the land of Canaan once his people are established there.
In other words: Moses is very interested in the future kings of Israel. He wants his people to understand clearly what tribe the kings are supposed to come from, and why.
And the reason he wants his people to know this is so that, when the kingship is revealed, the rest of the tribes will submit to that king and his tribe.
Moses does not want his people — the sons of Jacob — to follow the same track as the sons of Esau.
If you remember from last week, in Books 10 and 11, we found that God really blessed Esau’s nation: they matured faster than the sons of Jacob, and developed a system of kingship earlier. However, their system of kingship was based on civil war: it was based on conflict between brothers, and may the most ambitious and violent brother win!
It is a familiar system to us because…that’s politics, innit! The only difference is that we have managed to disguise our violence and power-madness behind words like “democracy” and “free elections” and things like that. Now, granted, our modern systems are much better than whole-sale bloodshed. However, our modern systems are also more deceptive: they fool us into thinking that our nations are less sinful than other more openly violent nations in our world.
Moses is warning his people against following that path, the path of ambition and violence and conflict between brothers. And that is why so many of the Books of Genesis have been centered around conflict between brothers, each conflict spelled out in more detail than the one than came before. They are all warnings about the destructive power of pride and selfish ambition.
Instead, Moses is proposing an alternate path for his people: the path of submission to God’s chosen tribe, God’s chosen king. He knows that only way to end the cycle of violence among brothers is for all the brothers to voluntarily give up their power to the one brother who has proven himself worthy.
And, really, Moses planted the first seeds of this idea right back at the beginning of Genesis. On the very same day Adam sinned, God promised that one day Eve would produce a son who would crush the serpent’s head and then rule over the rest of Adam’s children with perfect justice and mercy.
Now, clearly this Son of Eve is going to be a man, a human being, chosen by God, anointed by God: a human Messiah.
But, just as clearly, this man will need some kind of god-like powers if he is going to destroy the supernatural powers of the serpent, and then rule over all mankind.
And so, right from the very the beginning of Genesis, Moses has been developing this idea that what mankind really needs is a human Messiah who is also more than merely human…what mankind really needs is to be rescued and ruled by an eternal God-King.
And the rest of the Book of Genesis has been tracing the lineage of this promised God-King all the way down through the generations. And so, in every generation, there has been a set of brothers: one brother chosen by God to carry on the plan, and one or more brothers who were not chosen.
And the question in every generation has been: will the brothers who were not chosen recognize and submit to the brother God has chosen?
This generation of brothers here, in Book 12, is no different. We have Judah, and we have Joseph. One of these brothers has been chosen by God to produce kings for Israel; one has not. One of these brothers has been chosen by God to become the father of the Messiah, the eternal God-King over all mankind! — one has not.
And the question Moses wants his people to be asking as they read through Book 12 is this: when the chosen brother finally proves himself worthy to rule over the family, will the other brother submit to him? Or will he refuse, and ultimately plunge the family and the nation back into chaos and civil war?
And Moses’ application for his people is pretty obvious: he wants them to be asking themselves the same question. When God’s chosen tribe and God’s first chosen king is revealed, will they recognize him and submit? — or will they refuse?
And the bigger, deeper question Moses is asking is this: when God’s final chosen king is revealed, the eternal God-King, will the people of Israel recognize him? — or will they refuse…and so, end up resisting the will of God himself?
But this quite naturally leads to a question: what will this Messiah look like? What will God’s chosen, eternal God-King look like? How are we supposed to recognize him?
Because, the problem is, mankind has been producing false god-kings from the very beginning. Cain produced a line of city-building men who claimed to be god-kings, culminating in Lamech. Ham produced the same thing, culminating in Nimrod and the Tower of Babel. There are lots of self-proclaimed god-kings in the world — even today! So how are we supposed to know which one is the real one?
Well, this also is a question Moses has been answering little by little throughout the Book of Genesis.
Right at the very beginning, when the promised Son of Eve was first described, we found out that he would have the power of God to crush the serpent’s head! — and then we found out that he would be wounded in the process.
And sure enough, in the next generation, Abel — the brother chosen by God — was murdered by the rejected brother. And this just confirmed for us that being chosen by God does not mean that you are immune to rejection and suffering.
Actually, the opposite is true: it is men like Cain, and Lamech, and Ham, and Nimrod, and Laban, and Ishmael, and Esau who seem to grow effortlessly in power, while men like Seth and Enoch and Noah and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are insulted and enslaved and pushed to the fringes of society.
All the way through Genesis Moses has been showing us that those who look the most like what we think god-kings should look like — powerful and ambitious and successful — are actually the ones rejected by God. These are the ones we naturally follow and worship, because they have what we want, because they are what we want to be.
But all the way through Genesis Moses has been showing us that the real God-King is not going to look much like a king at all to us. He is going to have God-like powers…but he is not going to use those powers to lift himself up or deliver himself from all suffering. Instead, he is going to use God’s power to sustain himself as he passes through the valley of the shadow of death.
So the true God-King is going to be hard for us to recognize. Hard for us to accept even if we do recognize him.
And this is why Moses has been giving us glimpses of what the God-King is going to look like when he comes. He has been preparing his readers to recognize the truth and accept it when it is finally revealed.
And this is why now, in Book 12, Moses goes from giving us glimpses to painting a very detailed picture:
The Son of Eve, the Messiah, the future God-King of Israel, will be a son of high status in his father’s household, second only to the father himself. The father is going to send his son out to check on his brothers. And those brothers are going to betray him, strip him of his status, and sell him into slavery and death at the hands of Gentiles, non-Jewish people.
And all this is not going to happen by accident! This is going to be the plan, willingly entered into by all the participants, and overseen by God himself, who will be intimately involved in every detail of the process.
And what we are beginning to realize, as we talk our way through this, is that Judah and his brothers have just betrayed their own messiah to death among a foreign people.
And here is the really uncomfortable thing we have to realize: they did this knowing that Joseph was their messiah, chosen by God.
How did they know this?
They were given three signs, and muliple warnings. First, Joseph was born right at the turning point of their father Jacob’s life, when “God remembered Rachel” and gave her a son. Second, Joseph was clearly their father’s choice to inherit the Head of Household position, so they should have submitted to their father’s will even if they did not like Joseph. Third, Joseph was exhibiting supernatural powers through his dreams, showing that he was somehow also God’s choice — and it is always wise to submit to God’s will even if you do not want to submit to your earthly father’s will.
So while they could not be 100% sure that Joseph was the chosen one, all the evidence was pointing them to that conclusion!
And still they chose to ignore it. They ignored their own family history of conflict, they ignored the warnings contained in the name ”Shechem“, and in the name “Ishmaelites”, and even in the name “Midianites”! Because the Midianites, who were working with the Ishmaelites here, were also distantly related to the brothers: they were the descendants of Lot, who also refused to submit to his messiah Abraham, and suffered some terrible consequences.
Judah and his brothers deliberately destroyed their own saviour. They deliberately threw away their only chance at salvation. They are done! Dead! Damned.
…or are they?
I do not want to spoil the rest of the story for those of you who are not familiar with it. But as we have already seen that it was actually God’s plan for Joseph to be sold into slavery and death…I am going to suggest that, most likely, God also has a plan to redeem Joseph from the grave so that he can bring salvation back to his brothers.
At any rate, what Moses wants his people to eventually understand from all this is: a). what tribe the kings of Israel will come from, b). what kind of men the true kings of Israel are going to be, and c). what the final, eternal king of Israel is going to look like.
His purpose — his application — is to persuade his people to accept all of these truths when they are finally revealed.
But now: what does all this have to do with us?
Well, for those of us who are familiar with the bible, we have already noticed that what just happened to Joseph is also what happened to Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament. Joseph is a preview of Jesus:
Joseph was betrayed by Judah his brother, stripped of his robes of authority and sold into death at the hands of foreigners.
Jesus was betrayed by the sons of Judah — the Jewish people — his own brothers. He too was stripped and sold into death at the hands of foreigners, hung naked on a Roman cross.
Earlier we were asking how we are supposed to recognize the true God-King when he shows up…well, Joseph’s life is the answer. Over these next few weeks, as we compare Joseph’s life to Jesus’ life, we are going to have proven to us — beyond any shadow of a doubt — that Jesus must be the eternal God-King that was promised to mankind from the very beginning.
And if that is the case, then the application for us is the same as it was for the ancient people of Israel: now that God’s final, eternal king of Israel has been revealed…recognize him! And submit to his rule over your life.
If we do not, if we refuse to recognize him as our Messiah, our Saviour, then when the moment comes for him to lead his people out of the land of slavery to eternal life, we will refuse to follow him and we will be left behind.
So if you are here today and you have not yet recognized Jesus as your Saviour and King, if you have not yet been baptized into citizenship in his kingdom…do so. All you have to say is, “Lord! Save me! Lead me and I will follow!” And you will be saved.
And once you have done this, please let us know, so that we can baptize you and welcome you into the family.
If you are not yet convinced, then stick with us for a while. These next weeks are going to be eye-opening. The rest of the story of Genesis actually contains most of the rest of the history of the world within it! So if you are curious about the future, about what is to come, how all this is going to end and what we should do to prepare ourselves for it…you will want to stick around.
Now, if you are here today and you have already recognized Jesus as our eternal God-King, then this is our application: take the next step! Submit to his rule over our lives.
But, of course, we have to ask: what does this look like?
Well, since this whole episode was a warning against conflict between brothers, we can get very specific and say that submitting to Jesus’ rule means, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” As Christians, we have voluntarily given up our power to the only brother — the only Son of Eve — who has proven himself worthy of the kingship. By doing this, we have been lifted up, out of the cycle of violence among brothers, out of the cycle of conflict. In short: because we have peace with our God-King now, we also have the freedom to live in peace with people.
And this reality shows up in our lives in a lot of different, practical ways.
For instance, our understanding of leadership changes. Before Christ, we preferred to follow leaders who are powerful, ambitious, aggressive, successful. But now, as Christians, we are always looking for leaders who look more like our King and Saviour: humble men and women who have suffered loss, who have passed through the valley of death and slavery and still remained faithful to Christ.
In my own experience the best mentors and shepherds are those whom God has led through the darkness. This is not by accident, this is by design. As Christians, we need to be very very wary of leaders who constantly boast about their successes, or promise that they can make their followers successful. And we should never, never, promote such leaders into positions of authority in the Church.
Another thing that changes is our understanding of what our personal lives are supposed to look like. Before Christ, our ambition in life was to avoid suffering and to look after our own interests — which meant that we did not just follow powerful and successful leaders, we also wanted to be powerful and successful leaders. And this ambition is what filled our lives with conflict! But now, as Christians, we no longer seek to avoid suffering at all costs: first because we trust our God-King to look after our interests, second because we expect to suffer just like our God-King did.
In fact, the bible puts all this even more strongly: this reality must show up in our lives in a lot of different, practical ways. If we are actually at peace with our God-King, then we must live in peace with other people. Peace with other people is evidence of true peace with God.
In other words, there is actually no such thing as a contentious Christian: a Christian who loves conflict, who loves to stir up conflict. There is no such thing as a Christian who is motivated by political gain: who loves to play political games. There is no such thing as a Christian whose life’s ambition is to avoid suffering. There is no such thing as a Christian who follows leaders who are obviously obsessed with power and success —
…and this is where we all say, “Uh oh.”
Because the truth is we can be a pretty contentious bunch. Some of us get a bit of a rush when we enter into open conflict. And those of us who work very hard to avoid open conflict are often very gifted at secret conflict, at quietly undermining others. Besides this, we would all prefer to believe that — if we are truly God’s children — our lives will be problem-free and prosperous. And we do tend to follow pastors and leaders who promise us success.
Does this mean that we are not really Christians?
Well…no. It just means that we are not living up to the standards we are called to. We are not living up to the truth of who we are now in Christ. Which is bad!
However, this is not a reason for despair. Our natures are being transformed, but clearly our Father is not finished with us yet. We do betray our Messiah daily, just like Judah and his brothers did. But this does not mean that we have thrown away our last chance at salvation. I do not want to spoil the rest of the story for us…but just as God had a plan to redeem Jesus from the grave, he also has a plan to redeem us even from our failures and our continued unbelief.
So, in closing, this is our application: we are called to live in humility and peace, and to follow leaders who live in humility and peace, because that is what it looks like to submit our lives to our God-King. Those are are the standards we are called to meet. So let us work hard to meet those standards!
But, when we fail — and we will — repent. And start again. A thousand times a day if we need to. Because we can! That is the gift that our King has given us: the freedom to fail and try again a thousand times a day!
Now, I realize that this can sound discouraging — who wants to fail and repent a thousand times a day?! — but this is actually Good News. Because it is as we go through this process of trying and failing and repenting and trying again that we learn humility. And it is through this process of learning humility that we are transformed into people whose lives are defined by humility and peace.
The road through the valley of the shadow of death is a hard road. But we have so much to look forward to on the other side, friends!
So let’s press on together.