Key verse: Genesis 45:8
Big idea: In the beginning, God worked out all things for good.
The picture above is a Rube Goldberg drawing: a diagram of an absurdly complicated thing to accomplish a mundane task. If it were not titled, you might not immediately see what the machine would accomplish. If you only looked at a small part of it (say, the firework attached to the sickle), you would have no chance. Of course, the absurdity of the cartoon is that it would be much easier to wipe your own mouth than to rig (and wear!) this elaborate headpiece. But some things really do require a lot of complexity. If you are reading this on your smartphone, you are using an incredibly complex piece of technology, but every piece is necessary for it to operate (see this diagram). Think of your body! You have a sophisticated network of two lungs, two kidneys, a heart, a bladder, a stomach, fifteen feet of intestines, a liver, a thyroid, two eyes, a brain (usually), and countless other components made up of tens of trillions of cells (trillion with a t - 1,000,000,000,000). Each of those cells has a nucleus, ribosomes, mitochondria, and so on. It seems like a lot, but the complexity is necessary for its function. Look at one organ or one cell alone and you would not be able to guess what kind of body it came from; alone, a heart is both dead and incomprehensible. But together, it is part of the marvelous machine that can take you to Chick-fil-A to get the new spicy grilled chicken sandwich with cilantro sauce (yum). Ironically, the biochemical processes needed for you to wipe your own mouth with a napkin are far more complicated than the machine we have been thinking about.
Let's choose something even bigger. Something that lasts a lot longer than your phone or your body: the whole universe. How complex would the pieces of the universe need to be to accomplish God's plan over eons? Could you expect to understand it, even if you could see the whole thing? What about if you could only see the upper left corner, the equivalent of a cracker flying over a bird's head? There is no way. The wisdom and skill needed to make all of the pieces fit are beyond us. Even the alignment of the most mundane details of our life requires some parts that would be useless alone and inscrutable to us, but which are carefully aligned into the big picture.
Joseph refused to hold a grudge against his brothers. They were responsible for their sin, and if they had not repented, God would have judged them. Judas, for example, fulfilled God's purpose by arranging for the death of Christ, but it would have been better for him if he has never been born (Mark 14:21). God's plan did not change the responsibility of his brothers, but it did change how Joseph could respond. He could not stay angry because they had not harmed him. They couldn't! A superintending God oversaw everything that happened and worked it together in His master plan. It does not excuse our guilt for the things we do, but it does mean that we have no reason to be bitter about the way someone treats us or about some circumstance we face. In one of the deep mysteries of the world, God works it together for good (Romans 8:28).
Discussion idea: What is something in your life that seemed bad at the time, and worked out in the end?
Prayer focus: Lord, help me to trust You in the things I cannot see. You move on scales of space and time far bigger than I could detect, and far more profound than I could understand anyway. Teach me to trust Your heart, even when I don't understand.
Key Verse: Matthew 25:40
Big Idea: Be ready! The King will separate the true from the false.
In the second half of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus taught about the nature of the coming judgment. He used several parables about the importance of being prepared for His return and described the judgment on those unprepared. One parable, describing the sheep and goats, is hardly a parable at all. Jesus does not lay out a realistic scenario about how a shepherd might interact with a mixed flock but uses the images of sheep and goats as part of direct teaching on how the world will be judged.
The image itself is simple: this shepherd let his sheep and goats graze together during the day but separated them at night. In the same way, Jesus will come on the last day to distinguish between those who are His and those who are not. Their nature distinguishes them - no amount of goat-like behavior by a sheep would ever make it into a goat. Yet their behavior reveals their character. The sheep are the ones who had shown love to other Christians (Jesus’ brothers), by caring for them when they were sick, visiting them in prison, feeding them when they were hungry, and receiving them when they were foreigners. The goats showed that they were goats by failing to do the same. Love for neighbor is an incredibly accurate judge of our hearts because what we do to the least, we are really doing to Jesus. Disdain for others reveals disdain for Him. Love for others is the inevitable offspring of a heart that loves our Lord.
By nature, we are all goats and show it! We all sin and come short of the glory of God. But by grace, if we admit that we are sinners to Jesus, but ask Him in faith to change our hearts, he makes us into new creatures. A different kind of action then reveals that change. Superficial changes will not fool the King, and we can never behave our way into being something we are not. Ultimately, we need to be ready for the day that Jesus makes the final separation.
Discussion Idea: Is it possible for us to definitively distinguish between people who are sheep and people who are goats today? Why or why not?
Prayer Focus: Pray to recognize the image of God in others and to treat serving others as the worship of God.