Some things are going up:
The opportunity to serve people in need – that’s going up
The opportunity to trust God when trusting God isn’t easy – that’s going up
The opportunity to build a faith that will stand firm when the storms of life are battering it – that’s gone up
The opportunity to create a community where we can actually be real and open and honest with each other and love each other and pray for each other that’s going up
We know it’s going up because the power of God still sustains the universe
Because the death of Jesus is still sufficient to forgive human sin
Because the presence of the Holy Spirit stills guides and comforts people who need wisdom
Because the Bible is still the Word of God
Because prayer still gets answered
Because the Gospel still changes lives
Love still overcomes bigotry
Because faith still overcomes despair
Because the tomb is still empty
Because the Church is still marching
Because Jesus is still Lord
Because the promise of heaven is still the only ultimate hope
And it is closer today than it was yesterday
Because the Kingdom of God is doing very well
And does not need a stimulus package to bail it out
We live in a world where crises come and crises go and so it has always been in this world
This notion of “up” and “down” is very much at work in Genesis, particularly this opening between Jacob and God here.
Notice the intimacy here. This is the last time that God speaks in the book of Genesis, and it is significant that it is to Jacob, who in his roughness and his poor decisions still has the courage of faith and of intimacy.
Even Joseph who is blessed with stardust never seems to talk to God like this
But Jacob talks,
And the talk is of up and down
Look at verse 3 and 4.
Hebrew Notions Of Up And Down
The first is this notion of “up” and “down”.
The Hebrew notion of “up” and “Down” had Mount Zion as the highest point of the universe (not that Jacob knew much about Mount Zion, in a sense it was up to David and Solomon to spot this), but anyway, Zion was up. To go the temple, as in Psalm 120-134 was an ascent.
Or this scene here in Psalm 68:15-19
15O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked[a] mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
yes, where the LORD will dwell forever?
17 The chariots of God are twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands;
the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.
18 You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train
and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.
19Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.
To go away from the temple was to go down.
There were three places that were perennially down.
There was the underworld, Sheol, so you read in Genesis 37:35 from Joseph.
All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.”
Or the first chapter of Jonah which is the great abseiling chapter of the Bible, one of continuous descent,
But Jonah rose to feel to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord
And he went down to Joppa
And he went down into the boat
And whilst in the boat he went down into the belly of the boat
And he lay down and he went down
1. All Human Ups Are Temporary
What is happening in Genesis is that there is sense that up and down are kind of happening at the same time.
You have the “up” of some sense of sanctuary
All the persons of Jacob, came into Egypt were 70
And there is in this 70 a sense of completeness, that somehow God is with the people in this rescue,
The 70 being a sign of presence.
And 70 being very resonant of the 70 years that the Israelites would later spend in exile
So there is up, because the people are being rescued,
You have the emotional reunion of Joseph and Jacob in verse 29,
A moment that Jacob never though would happen
“Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”
But there are a few downs
There is sense of precariousness here, that the Israelites don’t want to make themselves too reliant on the Egyptians
Note what Pharaoh said back in chapter 45:20, that the Israelites didn’t need to bring any goods with them, but they still bring goods
Did you notice also that Pharaoh said that the people could settle in any part of the land of Egypt,
Whereas Joseph engineers their residence in Goshen which seems to be a bit of leftover land that nobody is particularly keen on settling.
And there is an ominous to the last sentence, that the Egyptians despise shepherds, so how long is it going to be until they start despising this new tribe of shepherds.
All Human Ups are Temporary
Notice here the possible sense of triumph that the tribe of Joseph has found a new home
That they have acceptance amongst the most powerful ruler in the region
Who has put all his wealth at their disposal.
This feels like a note of triumph,
But the text will not let it stand.
It is the quality of the Christian to see with realistic eyes all the fadeability of the world’s glories.
Advertising always tries to convince that perfect happiness is only a product away – whether that be the glamour of an iPad (until an iPad 2 comes along)
The masculine finesse of the Sensor razor until the Mach 3 comes along until the fusion proglide power razor came along.
The Christian will always sense the temporariness of joy
Augustine believed that there always could be true happiness in this life,
But as he grew older he believed that much much more of this was pushed back until eternity.
We so often have things in front of us that will guarantee us happiness
When I get my degree
When I get my job
When I get married
When we get children
When I get a motorbike
For me it would be moments like
When I learn to ski
When I become a minister
When I run a marathon
When I run a marathon under four hours
When Andy Murray wins Wimbledon
And all these things are temporary.
I have been reading Billy Graham’s autobiography of late. I am struck by a meeting he had with Winston Churchill in 1954 during his ground breaking crusade to London.
Graham had to turn down the initial offer of a visit due to his need to go to Scotland. Then another call came.. (page 235)
When I arrived at Number 10 Downing Street, I was reminded discreetly by Mr. Colville that the prime minister had precisely twenty minutes. After I was announced, I was shown into a large, dimly lit cabinet room. Mr. Churchill rose from his chair and shook my hand. I had not realised what a short man he was; I towered over him. He motioned with an unlit cigar for me to sit next to him. It would be just the two of us, apparently. I noticed that three London afternoon dailies were spread out on a table next to him.
“Well, first” he said, in the marvellous voice I had heard so many times on radio and in the newsreels, “I want to congratulate you for these huge crowds you’ve been drawing.”
“Oh well, it’s God’s doing, believe me,” I said.
“That may be,” he replied, squinting at me, “but I daresay that if I brought Marilyn Monroe over here, and she and I together went to Wembley, we couldn’t fill it.”
I laughed, trying to imagine the spectable.
“Tell me, Reverend Graham, what is that filled Harringay night after night?”
“I think it’s the gospel of Christ,” I told him without hesitation. “People are hungry to hear a word straight from the Bible. Almost all the clergy of this country used to preach it faithfully but I believe they have gotten away from it.” (I had heard that Mr. Churchill had written a book while he was a reporter in South Africa, in which he stated that he believed the Bible was inspired of God).
“Yes,” he said, sighing. “Things have changed tremendously. Look at these newspapers – filled with nothing but murder and war and what the Communists are up to. You know, the world may one day be taken over by the Communists.”
I agreed with him, but I did not feel free to comment on world politics. I merely nodded, and he continued: “I’ll tell you, I have no hope. I see no hope for the world.”
“Things do look dark,” I agreed. I hesitated, not wanting to repeat the gaffe I had committed with President Truman just a few years before by being too direct about religion in our conversation. We talked at length about the world situation, and then, as if on cue, the prime minister looked me in the eye. “I am a man without hope,” he said sombrely. “Do you have any real hope?”
I am struck by that story, because it is about the man who has tasted the greatest triumphs of the twentieth century.
He has been instrumental in the defeat of history
He has been vindicated in many of his judgements about world affairs
He has been made prime minister once through the collective consent of his colleagues, many of whom once regarded him as dangerous maverick
He has recovered his ministerial reputation after the defeat Gallipoli, ostracisation in the 1930s, his defeat by Attlee in the labour landslide of 1945,
His very word defiant hope, we will never surrender, he was the man who refused to give up, and who hated defeatism
And yet he it is who sits in chair and confesses that he is without hope.
We need to be realists about the possession we buy
The schemes we invest our imaginations in
The futures that we work towards
The dreams that we hope will one day be realised
In this life, none of these is ever complete. All we ever have are temporary triumphs before moving on to the next challenge.
It is one of the aspects of our finitude that no aspect of this world is every truly complete.
But there is also a significant down
There is the down that Jacob spots,
And here it is Jacob that seems to be able to spot things on a spiritual level.
There is a thing about Joseph that thought God is with him, his a spirituality of talent and giftedness
It is the character of Jacob and ultimately Judah which will be the source of blessing in this story.
Jacob Spots The Down
Jacob spots the down because all human ups are temporary
And the third big down in the Bible is Egypt,
Genesis 46:3 using language that appears all through the Joseph story
“Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
Look at the moment when the whole offspring goes down in verse 7
This is a fraught precarious moment,
What kind of God is it who likes to make promises and then threaten them
This is God who loves to take risks
Who loves to come through
Who loves to walk the precipice
Who loves to walk across the waves
Who goes down to Egypt
Who goes down into the lower parts of the earth
God who makes promises
And then surrounds those promises with threat
Because God is with us in the “down”
God is with us in the down
Notice that Jacob it is who truly perceives that problems with going down to Egypt,
And it is to him also that God says
“I myself will go down with you to Egypt”
This down, what it looks like is the path of the Cross.
And this is not easy.
I am constantly struck by the great burdens that a great many Christians it seems have to bear
It makes me question my faith to be honest
But I am also struck by something going on at the same time.
Paul was able to do this. In his letter to the Philippians he would talk about the command to be joyful always, and at the same time he would write to the Corinthians that he had an experience where he had despaired of life itself.
People sometimes talk of Christian assurance as if it is a kind of serenity in the face of external difficulties,
But my experience is that it is genuine torture,
But somehow holding that God is here also.
I love run, and the sense I have of this is when the last mile, and you are feeling dreadful, exhausted, “your sugar starved brain is telling you to stop”
And yet God is here.
Listen to these words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written in
Wonderful poem from Bonhoeffer at the end, exploring the contradictions in our life, the apparent saintliness without, and the anxieties and worries that we wrestle with within. As he left his cell to be hung on the gallows, a cellmate reported that he said “For me, this is not the end, this is the beginning”, and yet also within there were great turmoils in this great saint of the 20th century Church.
Who am I
They often tell me I will step from cell calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country house,
Who am I
They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendlily as though it were mine to command
Who am I?
They often tell me I would bear the days of misfortune calmly, smilingly, proudly, as one accustomed to win
Am I then really all that which other men tell of
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick
Like a bird in a cave struggling for breath
As though hands were compressing my throat.
Yearning for colours, for flowers, for birds
Thirsting for words of neighbourliness
Trembling with anger at evils and petty humiliations
Tossing in expectation of great events
Powerless trembling for friends at an infinite distance
Weary, empty a praying, at thinking
Feint and ready to say farewell to it all
Who am I?
This or the other
Am I one person today and tomorrow another
Am I both at once
A hypocrite before others
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling
There is something within me still like a beaten army fleeing in disorder
With victory already achieved
Who am I?
They mock me these lonely questions of mine
Whoever I am
Thou knowest Oh God
I am thine
Whoever I am? I don’t even know me God, all I know is that I am yours.
Or these words from a newly discovered hero of mine, a man called Shabhaz Bhatti, Minister for Minority peoples in Pakistan, the only Christian member of the cabinet who was assassinated on
Your life is threatened by who, and what sort of threats are you receiving?
The forces of violence, militant banned organisations, the Taleban and pro-Al-Qaedi, they want to impose their radical philosophy in Pakistan. And whoever stands against their radical philosophy they threaten them.
When I am leading this campaign against the Sharia Laws, for the abolishment of blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed, and marginalised, persecuted Christian and other minority, these Taleban threaten me.
But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of cross. And I am following of the cross. And I am ready to die for a cause, I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles. I will prefer to die for my principle and for the justice of my community rather to compromise on these threats.
Shabhaz displayed great courage. And yet that did not mean that a few days before his death he phoned up Orla Guerin of the BBC, to talk about his fear, his anxiety, but yet his determination
“I have struggled a long time for justice and equality. If I change my stand today, who will speak out? I am mindful that I can be assassinated at any time, but I want to live in history as a courageous man.”
After the down there will be an up
This is the great Christian hope
That the up will not occur through great schemes, through socialism, through private enterprise, through the welfare state, through universal access to an Apple iPad, or the great day when Andy Murray at last wins Wimbledon.
But there will be a day when Christ will appear,
He will appear on clouds,
And we will rise to meet him,
Then like a city going out to meet an ancient king
We will will walk back with him into the new city, the New Earth and the New Heaven to reign with him.
And on the way we will encounter many up’s
The up that the Israelites would wait for would be their exodus across the Red Sea
This is what God means in verse 4 when he says to Jacob, “And I will bring you up again.”
It is that hope that characterised Billy Graham when he spoke with Churchill.
What perhaps characterised Churchill is that he believed in his own destiny and greatness, and even that, indomitable as it was gave out.
What characterised Billy Graham is that he never believed in himself, but always trusted in God.
- Rick Warren Tweet Optimism is psychological; hope is theological. Optimism focuses on what you think you can do. Hope trusts in what God can do.
C.S. Lewis (page 34)
They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.
Billy Graham in London and Glasgow
This is his account of what happened as he was getting ready to land in London for that first Harringay crusade in London was that an English newspaper journalist had got hold of a calendar from the Billy Graham organisation which said something like “What Hitler’s bombs failed to achieve, socialism has accomplished in a few years”. What the calendar meant to say was secularism.
But Graham was lambasted
He was lambasted by Churchmen
Two Senators, one a democrat, the other a republican who had agreed to appear with him, withdrew their support on the advice of the Ambassador.
One newspaper wrote on the first Monday of the parade that Billy Graham had “all the tricks of the modern demagogue”
“Only the people seem to be for Billy”, referring to the fact that the government, the leaders and the clergy had deserted him.
When he took the phone call from Senator Symington he fell to his knees with a sinking feeling “Lord, I can only commit the entire matter to You. I know what you want to happen will happen, it’s out of my hands.”
A few hours of turmoil later, I took a call from Jerry at Harringay Arena. He sounded down, and by now I myself was nearly despairing. I saw sleet outside and asked if the weather was the same where he was.
“I’m afraid so,” he said “Only a few people have trickled in so far. By now we should be half-filled.”
I sighed “How about the press?”
“Oh they’re here,” he said “Right now it seems there’s more of them than us. They’re taking pictures of the empty seats.”
In my soul, I was willing to become a laughing stock if that was what was supposed to happen, but the prospect was terrifying.
Half and hour later, Jerry called back with the news that there were now about 2,000 people in the massive arena. That mean that 10,000 seats were still empty.
“What do you think?” I asked
“It looks like we’ve had it” he replied.
When it was time for us to leave the hotel, Ruth and I got on our knees and had a last prayer. I could envision people all over the world praying for us. For the first time, my gloom lifted and I had confidence that whatever happened that night, God would be glorified.
During the half-hour ride to the arena, Ruth and I holding hands. I had often been caught in traffic heading to our meetings, but that night we arrived in good time and saw no lines of cars or people.
“Honey,” I said to her, “Let’s just go and face it and believe God had a purpose in it.”
As we reached the door, Willis Haymaker rushed out to meet us.
“The arena is jammed!” he said
“What do you mean, jammed? We didn’t see anybody as we approached”
“The main entrance is on the other side. Most of the traffic and people came from that direction. The place is full and running over, and hundreds are outside”
What followed was one of the most significant events in 20th Century history of the English Church, a crusade that culminated in 100,000 in Wembley stadium and that meeting with Winston Churchill.
It led to be people like Richard Carr-Gomm making a recommitment and founding the Abbeyfield hospice movement. It meant that when Billy Graham returned to England a few years later there were 52 clergy with him on the platform, all of whom had become Christians during that first crusade.
Crucially for us it led to the crusade in Glasgow, something that we like our English counterparts were sceptical of and debated in our General Assembly.
Billy had been advised when he gave his first address that the Scots would not come forward for the invitation.
I felt a strong closeness (page 249) with the audience that Could explain only as the power of the Holy Spirit. But when I gave the Invitation at the end of the sermon, not a soul moved. My advisers, I admitted had been right. I bowed my head in prayer and moments later, when I looked up, people were streaming down the aisles, some with tears in their eyes.
In London, 2 million people had been reached in 12 weeks.
In Scotland 2.5 million had been reached in 6 weeks in Glasgow and in single rallies in Aberdeen and Inverness. In London there had been 38,000, in Scotland it had been 52,000.
Behind that there were individual stories. The woman who owed her new perm to Billy Graham. Her husband after being converted at the Crusade brought home all of his paycheck instead of holding out much of it for drinking and gambling.
John R Rice, editory of the Sword of the Lord newspaper who described his time in Scotland has “7 miracle days”
Or the devout Churchgoing husband and wife in a small Irish town listening over the radio to the Crusade broadcast from the Kelvin Hall, who decided on the spot to trust the Man on the Cross, and who held to their faith in the face of strong local criticism and opposition.
Or the moment when Billy Graham, many years later live in a satellite link up with Scotland addressed our school of evangelism in 1993 and who was introduced by the Moderator that year, Hugh Wyllie, who said that in 1955 he had been unable to listen in person, but he had listened on an landline in Elgin and through this his parents had deepened in faith, and he in turn had come to make is own commitment to Christ.
This is the “up” that followed on from that moment in London when Billy Graham bowed his head and told got he was prepared to be a laughing stock for him.
When Jacob bowed his head as he prepared to go down to Egypt, he knew there were hard times ahead,
But he knew also there would be an up,
A sea to crossed
A mountain where the law would be given
A nation which would be God’s chosen people
And ultimately another man who would be lifted up
And all who trusted in him would be given life.
We might not always spot what is up and what is down
But with God the last of those is up
Dostoevsky put it perfectly when he wrote (page 33)
I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so previous will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed, that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.