Developing a Gospel Culture
When the brothers are brought before Joseph to face the music for their guilt in stealing his silver cup, Judah emerged as the group’s spokesman. What gave him the standing to take on this role? He had broken faith with his family by marrying a Canaanite. He had raised two sons who were so wicked that the Lord put them to death. He had treated his daughter-in-law as a prostitute. He had hatched the plan to sell his own brother as a slave. But the Judah we see in this appeal to Joseph is a different man. A man who has been changed by God.
He tells Joseph the story of a father who has lost a son, a son that was torn to pieces and for whom he still grieves. He tells him the brother of that lost son, from the same mother, is this younger son, the one they brought back with them to Egypt, and he is greatly loved by their father. So much so that he had refused to let them take him to Egypt, for fear that he too would be killed. His life, my father’s life, Judah says to Joseph, is bound up in this son’s life. If we leave that boy here as your servant, and we return without him, sir, we will “bring down the gray hairs…of our father with sorrow to Sheol.” Judah makes an appeal to the heart of this man who has all power in Egypt, not knowing that the father he is talking about who may die in grief if Benjamin does not return, is also father to the man listening to the appeal. The father Joseph has not seen in 22 years.
Then Judah goes much further than making an emotional appeal for Benjamin’s life. He offers his life in Benjamin’s place. He offers himself as a sacrifice. Allen Ross writes, “The passage teaches that, in order for brothers (and sisters) to live together in unity, they must have self-sacrificing love for one another.” Have the brothers had this before? No, they failed miserably. They are being tested to see if they have that love for one another now, love that is willing to sacrifice for the well-being of others. But notice that God is also leading them to a place where they can have their past sins uncovered. So they can be delivered from the deceit they have lived with for 22 years, and so they can come to realize how much they will need to love one another to prevent such evil in the family of faith from happening again.
Don’t miss the Gospel in this. Judah offered himself, and he was innocent in this case, to take the place of the one who appeared to be guilty. And he did so for the love of his father. Jesus said to his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus went on to demonstrate that for us, and he calls us to do the same. Claus Westermann wrote, “There is a path that leads from the Joseph story right up to the very threshold of community; the healing of a breach is possible only when there is one who is ready to take the suffering upon oneself.”
I listened to a podcast last week called “You’re not Crazy!” Ray Ortlund and Sam Alberry talk about churches that have gospel doctrine but are lacking gospel culture. Their question was, if we have orthodoxy of doctrine, and that’s critical, do we also have orthodoxy of community? In other words, we know what we believe and why we believe it and are absolutely committed to living in a way that corresponds to that doctrine. We are rightly captivated by truth. But, what if we have a blind spot to what that truth is meant to produce in me and through me in the lives of other people? Do we have a transparency and a humility about who we are and the struggles we have and the need we have to walk with others through that and not live as though we have it all sewed up? That attitude of thinking, that we “have it all together,” undermines the gospel culture that we must have if the church is to be healthy and to be attractive to the world around us. We see that gospel culture beginning to emerge with the brothers in Genesis, especially with Judah.
Do we see that same culture developing in our church?